Primavera! Spring! Land that has lain bare and dormant during winter is coming alive. The winter season, mirroring the liturgical season of Lent, is giving way to the beauty of spring — bursting forth into new life as we celebrate the Easter season!
God gifted us with these seasons. “Then God said: Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. … Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the seasons, the days and the years.” (Genesis 1: 11-12; 14-15)
In Italy, my birthplace, the season of spring is a special time. For farmers, it marks a new beginning – soil that was barren and tilled during the fall and winter, is ready to regenerate. My favorite farmer, my mother, says the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, is one of the biggest planting days of the year. Seeds of all sorts are planted, many ready for harvest within weeks. But some, like tomatoes, are harvested months later.
Nature mirrors the mighty plan of God. At the Annunciation, God becomes man — the seed planted in the womb of the Virgin Mary; nurtured and grown, to be born some nine months later, to become the Bread of Life!
In springtime some of the best pasta dishes are enjoyed in Italy. Fresh, seasonal spring vegetables, served with some of the world’s most flavorful pasta artigianale (artisan pasta), make a perfect Pasta Primavera dish. There is a village near my hometown, along the southern foot of Mount Vesuvius, called Torre Annunziata. It is famous for its “macaroni” production — macaroni referring to all types of pasta. Like so many Italian towns, Torre Annunziata is named after a church, one dedicated to the Virgin of the Annunciation.
When I was a kid, I believed all saints, including the Virgin Mary, were Italian. All their names were Italian (Santa Maria, San Giuseppe, San Pietro, etc.); the pope lived in Italy; and every city had a saint’s remains buried in its church. I was eventually disappointed to learn about my misinterpretation, but I probably wasn’t the first Italian to think Italians invented half the world.
The mild climate of Torre Annunziata, created by the sea on one side and Mount Vesuvius on the other, makes it the perfect place for producing pasta. Pasta is best when subjected to a long, slow drying process in warm (but not too warm) temperatures. Torre Annunziata pasta is hung from bamboo sticks outside to dry in the sea wind, which can take up to five days. The result is a pasta so perfect in texture and taste you’ll understand why Italians eat it with almost every meal.
You can pair any vegetable – fresh, sautéed, or any cooking style –with your favorite pasta to make a scrumptious, rustic Pasta Primavera dish. Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua!
CHEF NEIL FUSCO is founder of Cucina Antica Foods, Corp., a specialty Italian food-products company. Raised on a farm in San Marzano in southern Italy, he learned his family’s production and cooking with the renowned San Marzano tomatoes they’ve grown there since the 1800s. His newly released cookbook is “The Main Ingredient,” with amusing and heartfelt stories about faith, family and recipes from his childhood in southern Italy.
Rustic Pasta Primavera
25 ounces Cucina Antica® Tomato Basil cooking sauce
Italian imported fusilli pasta (cooked and drained)
1 medium yellow squash cut in 1/2 inch squares
1 medium zucchini cut in 1/2 inch squares
½ lb of fresh mushrooms quartered
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese
8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
In a 10” sauté pan on medium heat add olive oil, squash, mushrooms, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt. Sauté until you have achieved a soft but crunchy consistency.
Add 25oz Cucina Antica® Tomato Basil cooking sauce and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Simmer approx 2 minutes.
Take approx ½ cup of the sauce and mix with cooked pasta.
Plate pasta and top evenly with the remaining sauce and vegetables. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese and basil evenly and serve immediately.