Tuscany, as most everyone knows, is a magical and unspoiled place. Although many areas can be crowded with tourists, with just a bit of effort, one can still find beautiful slices of traditional Tuscan life. When asked by friends to join them in a stay at one such unspoiled gem, we agreed without hesitation. They had found a villa to rent at a family-run winery in the Chianti Classico region of the Black Rooster (Gallo Nero) between Sienna and Florence. The villa’s resident caretaker, Marianne, would provide home-cooked traditional Italian meals for us on selected evenings. How could we possibly resist?
While the views of the small vineyard and surrounding countryside were as beautiful and serene as anticipated,
it was the inside of the villa that really got our attention and surpassed our wildest expectations. The classic old interior with cavernous rooms laden with stone and wood was astounding.
After taking in our amazing surroundings, I began to anticipate our in-residence meals. Would they be as good as we might expect from this region of gastronomic delights? Would they use fresh local ingredients? Would they be worth foregoing the fabulous local restaurants? As you might have guessed, the answer to all these questions was a resounding “yes”.
My favorite dish was a mix of local vegetables with pasta. This was similar to what I think of as pasta Primavera — but there were no tomatoes as well as other differences. What really distinguishes this dish from Primavera is the meticulous method and not the ingredients. Marianne not only cooked nearly all the vegetables separately, but perfectly caramelized selected vegetables.
- COOKING FUNDAMENTALS: CARAMELIZATION. Caramelizing (browning) foods, if done correctly, is a path to robust flavors. Caramelizing, which occurs in vegetables and meats, changes sugars in those foods to complex and flavorful organic molecules such as aromatic rings, acids, aldehydes and alcohols. These changes occur when you heat vegetables to high temperatures (>300 F) without added water. The chemicals and flavors are produced by the dry heat as browning progresses. To sustain dry heat in the cooking process, it is important not to crowd foods when browning. Usually this means a single layer where pieces of food are not touching each other, or have limited contact.
Most foods have an optimal degree of browning. Photos below show my preferred level of browning for vegetables in this recipe.
Cavatappi with Spring Vegetables
Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC, Adapted from Marianne, our Italian Cook
Serving Size: 6 as Main Course or 8 as Appetizer
8 ounces broccoli
4 ounces haricots vert, or asparagus
olive oil, as needed to saute vegetables, about 1 cup
6 ounces carrots
8 ounces red pepper
8 ounces orange pepper
4 ounces squash, yellow
4 ounces zucchini (courgettes)
8 ounces onion, red
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound cavatappi, or other similar pasta such as penne
1 cup wine, white
1 cup stock, chicken, or pasta water
to taste salt
to taste pepper, black
1/2 cup parsley, fresh, chopped
1/4 cup basil, fresh, (optional)
6 ounces parmesan Reggiano, grated
1. Cut broccoli into small florets. Save stems for salad or trim and slice and add to florets. Blanch broccoli in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Trim haricots verts (thin green beans) into 2 inch pieces and blanch in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Set both broccoli and green beans aside.
2. Wash, trim and cut all remaining vegetables (carrots, peppers, squash and onion) into strips or small pieces (1-2 inches). Keep each type of vegetable separate.
3. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
4. While water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil In a very wide sauté pan over medium to high heat. Begin sautéing unblanched carrots, peppers and squashes. Do not crowd vegetables; a single layer is ideal. Brown each type of vegetable separately – except for peppers, which can be combined. Saute carrots, yellow squash and zucchini until the vegetables have begun to get a light to medium brown color. These vegetables all have sufficient sugar to obtain a good flavor with browning (caramelization). Salt and pepper each vegetable to taste as you sauté.
Once the carrots, peppers and squashes are cooked, they can be combined in a large bowl (you will be adding more to this bowl). If possible, keep warm but do not continue to cook.
5. Without rinsing the sauté pan, sauté the red onion in the same pan. Add minced garlic to red onion and stir one minute. Add blanked haricots verts to onion and garlic and stir one minute more. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the onion/garlic/haricot vert mix to the carrots/peppers/squashes in the bowl. Do not rinse sauté pan.
6. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions or as required for home-made pasta.
7. While pasta is cooking, deglaze the sauté pan with white wine. Add chicken stock. Cook over rapid heat until reduced by at least 1/2 (or to 1 cup or slightly less).
8. Drain pasta when just tender. Toss pasta with about 2 teaspoons olive oil. Keep warm.
9. Add vegetables in the bowl and blanched broccoli to the sauté pan with simmering wine/stock. Heat until vegetables are rewarmed (if they have cooled) and stir very gently.
10. Place cooked pasta in warm individual serving bowls (or large family-style pasta bowl). Top pasta with vegetables and stir gently. Sprinkle with grated parmesan and garnish with parsley (and fresh basil if available). Serve immediately.