I'm sorry spring, I thought we were on such good terms? We were getting along so well, with your sunny 70 degree days, my morning coffee on the back deck as I check on the plants in the cool first light. My strolls to the market for asparagus and peas and strawberries, reading a book in a park in the afternoon sun. What happened? You seem to have disappeared and left a fiery disposition of 105 degree heat and 100% humidity, interspersed with spectacular lightening shows and freak rain storms. I didn't think it would end so soon. After our brief 3-week romance you up and left me for summer.
Despite being jilted by spring, the markets still bear her vestige in the last of the asparagus and pea shoots and morel mushrooms of the season. Summer breathed it's fire breath, sweat trickled down my back and the creases of my knees every time I ventured outside, the market lady with her baskets of tatsoi, mizuna, kale, and mache packed up at 11 am, when even constant sprinkles of ice water couldn't keep anything from wilting.
However, the dinner I cobbled together out of items in my pantry, on an evening when it was bearable enough to contemplate eating something besides sliced melon or ice cream, managed to be rather inspired. I've adopted the Italian tradition of tossing rinds from old pieces of parmesan into my freezer and later using them to make parmesan broth. Made simply by simmering parmesan rinds in stock (homemade is best but storebought is fine), this is one of those kitchen tricks to have in your arsenal, because everything tastes better in parmesan broth. In this case, a quick blanch of asparagus and peas and some pearl pasta I found in my cabinet. I could pick out some cliched expression about refreshing spring food or how this was more than the sum of its parts, but I think you get my drift- it was easy, fast, and delicious. Spring may have left but she still tastes good.
Asparagus, Peas, and Pearl Pasta in Parmesan Broth
I had wanted to include some pancetta in this recipe but didn't have any on hand when I made it. If you do, saute the pancetta in a pot, then add the stock and proceed with the recipe as directed.
2 big hunks parmesan rind, with about an inch of cheese still attached
6 cups good quality vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup acini de pepe, Israeli couscous, or moghrabiyya
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
a handful of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
half a lemon
a few sprigs mint
salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the stock in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the parmesan rinds and add the pasta. Simmer the mixture until the pasta is al dente (follow directions on the pasta package for time). Add peas and asparagus and cook 2-3 more minutes, until just tender. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the broth. Taste for seasoning. Remove parmesan rinds and discard. There may be a few stringy cheese bits in the broth, that's ok. Ladle into bowls, garnish with mint, serve immediately.