Italians celebrate the rebirth of the land in spring by harvesting tiny dandelion leaves, shell peas, fava beans, artichokes, young garlic, asparagus and lots of early herbs such as chives, mint, oregano, little basil leaves and parsley, notes chef and cookbook author Erica De Mane, who specializes in Italian cooking. When fashioning a pasta dish with spring produce, she uses the Italian approach and keeps it clean, such as in this recipe she created for Real Food. Her aim is to blend one or two ingredients such as artichokes and prosciutto, with maybe one herb, like basil or mint, and work the flavors gently, letting each ingredient shine.
When you’re highlighting a seasonal vegetable, you want to use it to create what Italians call a condimento, or a condiment for the pasta, says De Mane. That is where the vegetable and its cooking juices become one with the pasta. She often does this by giving the pasta and the sauce a final toss in the pan, adding a little more olive oil or butter and a splash of pasta cooking water to create a creamy emulsion. Scattering fresh herbs on at the last minute can really wake things up to help create a spring pasta dish with true Italian flair.
Pappardelle with Artichokes, Prosciutto and Basil
Makes 4 Servings
Using baby artichokes, which have no chokes to worry about, makes this elegant dish quick to come together. For a vegetarian version, just leave out the prosciutto and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth or a little water.
For the Artichokes
juice and grated zest from 1 lemon
2 dozen baby artichokes (a few more if they’re really small)
2½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 spring onion, finely diced
1 large spring garlic clove, thinly sliced
½ cup dry vermouth
¾ cup chicken broth, homemade or good quality store bought
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Pasta
salt, for pasta cooking water
1 pound pappardelle
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 very thin slices prosciutto di Parma or San Danielle, cut into thin strips
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
15 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
⅓ cup lightly toasted pine nuts (optional; See Cook’s Note)
- Set up a big bowl of cold water and add the lemon juice (set aside zest). Remove the tough outer leaves of the artichokes and trim the tops of what remains. Quarter the artichokes lengthwise and drop them into the lemon water. This will help prevent them from darkening.
- Choose a sauté pan big enough to hold all the artichokes and heat over medium heat. Add 2½ tablespoons olive oil. Scoop the artichokes from the lemon water, shake off any excess liquid, and put them in the pan. Sauté to coat them in the oil, about 1 minute. Add the onion and sauté 1 minute longer. Add the garlic and cook it just until it gives off its aroma. Add the vermouth and let it bubble for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, partially cover the pan, and simmer the artichokes until they’re just tender when poked with a knife, about 7 or 8 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and the lemon zest.
- Set up a pot of pasta cooking water and add a generous amount of salt. Drop in the pappardelle. When the pasta is tender, about 3 to 4 minutes for fresh pasta, drain it, saving a little of the pasta cooking water, and tip it into a big serving bowl. Add the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss gently. Add the artichokes and all their cooking juices, the prosciutto, about 1 tablespoon of grated Parmigiano, the basil and a few more grindings of black pepper. Toss, adding a bit of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if needed. Check for seasoning. Scatter the pine nuts on top, if you’re using them. Serve hot, bringing the rest of the Parmigiano to the table.
Cook’s Note: To toast pine nuts, preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread nuts on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Roast until they’re just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them—nuts can go from toasted to burned very quickly.
Variation: You can make this with asparagus instead of artichokes. Just blanch the spears, cut them at an angle, and add them to the pan when you would have added the artichokes. The cooking time will shorten to only several minutes, and you won’t need the chicken broth.
What is “generously salted” water?
For 1 pound of pasta, De Mane generally use about 3½ quarts of water and about 2 teaspoons of salt. For pasta to be properly seasoned, the water should taste a little salty. Plus, you need enough water so the pasta floats around freely, cooking evenly and quickly. You can certainly use a little less water and less salt, but this is in keeping with the traditional Italian way.
Nutrition info (per serving) Pappardelle with Artichokes, Prosciutto & Basil: Calories 994 (321 From Fat); Fat 37g (Sat. 16g); Chol 58mg; Sodium 1421mg; Carb 120g; Fiber 15g; Protein 46g