Almost Pasta Primavera

I’m writing to clear up a misconception and to debunk the myth of a well known Italian pasta dish associated with this time of the year, Pasta Primavera. You know, that hodgepodge of vegetables and pasta in an over done cream sauce that is supposed to represent the fresh vibrant flavors of spring. The resulting dish is often a poor imitation of Pasta Primaverile, pasta made during the season of spring in Italy. There it might be called pasta e verdure (pasta and vegetables) with aromatic herbs and fresh brightly colored springtime vegetables like asparagus, baby peas or tiny green beans. The dish is made with al dente pasta finished with a soffritto of garlic ,extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano  cheese. Italians believe that less is more. Perfectly fresh vegetables, artisan pasta, simple preparation, avoid the creamy sauce. That’s how my friends and family in Italy celebrate spring.

It is generally believed that Pasta Primavera was created in NYC in the 1970’s by Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque,a French restaurant in Manhattan. The dish achieved its star status when the food editor from the NY Times ate it, loved it and promptly wrote about it in  an article praising the light flavor and “subtle” sauce of the dish making it a fashionable choice along the Upper East Side. This is probably still the best almost Italian interpretation of the dish outside of Italy. Along the way there have been many permutations and variations. I have seen recipes for several “unItalian” versions of this dish including creamy tortelloni chicken primavera, a smoky primavera made with Gouda cheese, a primavera made with evaporated milk , primavera with cashews and almonds and a recipe found on the web site made with low fat milk and vegetable broth that looked like someone threw up. And I haven’t even mentioned all the pre-packaged versions found in the refrigerated section of Target.

Then there are the cross-cultural reinterpretations like pasta primavera spring rolls, Thai Pasta Primavera made with rice noodles, coconut milk and red curry paste and for salad lovers, pasta primavera salad dosed with bottled Italian dressing. Quick and easy yes, Italian no. Try a pinzimomio instead for an authentic Italian salad experience. There’s even a Camp and Trail Pasta Primavera for hikers, campers and outdoors enthusiasts made with Wheatex, a textured wheat protein that mimics the texture and appearance of food.

Finding an authentic Pasta Primaverile. Molto difficile


Designer Gelato

Leonardo and Alice. These are not the names of two characters from a 14th century Italian novella or a recently discovered secret diary of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo and Alice are the names of two flavors of gelati at Riva Reno Gelateria on Via G.Mazzini 12 in Ferrara. With typical Italian sprezzatura ice cream becomes an art form and as such takes on a personality that requires more than a mere labeling of chocolate or vanilla.

Like a work of art people take pause, gaze and in this case take a lick and if they’re at Riva Reno Gelateria you hear comments like “You can feel the ingredients”.  The creamy, velvety texture, intense flavors and exclusivity of product have brought Riva Reno gelato many accolades including the Best Gelateria in Italy awarded by Golosaria Magazine in 2008 with more glowing reviews in Gambero Rosso, the Lonely Planet and the Michelin Guide. You can taste Leonardo (mascarpone with chocolate and hazelnut topping) and Alice (pronounced ah-lee-ch-ay) (pine nut cream with toasted pine nuts) in Ferrara or at Riva Reno Gelateria shops in Milan, Turin, Venice and Florence. Other Riva Reno specialities include Otello with chocolate, egg cream, Marsala wine, Barozzi chocolate and coffee cake, Morena a white cream gelato topped with candied sour cherries and syrup and Zafferano al sesamo with saffron cream and carmelized toasted sesame seeds. Like other gelateria in Italy, the more traditional flavors are also available. You can combine scoops of vanilla with chocolate chips(Stracciatella), pistachio, hazelnut, coffee, coconut and chocolate in a cup or a cone. Most gelateria will offer both so depending on your preference. When ordering, ask for either “una coppa” (a cup) or “un cono,” (a cone). Unlike an ice cream cone in the States, the ideal cone in Italy comes with two similar flavors (gusti) of gelato like nocciola (hazelnut) and ciccolato (chocolate). It’s also popular to order three  flavors in a single cone or cup and they don’t necessarily have to go together! 

Designer gelato reaches new heights in the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano.  In “la citta ’dalle belle torri”, the city of the beautiful towers, there is a 13th century octagonal cistern in the middle of the Piazza della Cisterna and a gelateria that serves some of the best artisan gelato in Italy with innovative flavors like Cream of Fina® Saint (cream with saffron and pine nuts), Champelmo® (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine), Dolceamaro® (cream with aromatic herbs) and Vernaccia Sorbet made with regional Vernaccia wine. The gastronomic creations at Gelateria di Piazza are limited only by the imagination of master ice cream maker Sergio Dondoli. His cups and cones are award wining creations with names like Sangue di Bue (Blood of Ox), inspired by Sergio’s first Armani leather jacket. It was a reddish-brown oxblood color; his gelato, dark chocolate with cherry jam and chilli pepper.