Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spaghetti Primavera Sirio Maccioni

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I'm taking the day off from cooking and posting on Mother's Day, but I'm passing along this recipe which I found last night while browsing through a cookbook.  Very timely for this time of the year.  I also thought that some of you might want to see the original recipe for pasta primavera as created by Sirio Maccioni, owner of Le Cirque, a far cry from what is been served these days.  Did you know, for instance, that the original had two sauces?

This poor dish has gotten so bastardized over the years that what you get is but a ghost of the original.    Pasta Primavera has come to define simply any type of pasta with vegetables, olive oil and cheese.

I had the real thing in New York at Le Cirque a lo-o-o-ong time ago and it was marvelous but, unfortunately, it was so popularized that people simply got tired of it.  Every restaurant from New York to Peoria had it on the menu; every hostess at her lunch buffets. The Ladies Who Lunch simply adored it!

Nowadays, it's not even on the menu at Le Cirque, although you can get it if you simply ask for it.  It’s prepared on a cart close to your table and served piping hot so the veggies are still steaming yet crunchy fresh.

Sirio Maccioni's recipe was the signature dish at Le Cirque in the 1970's and 80's.  It was one of those recipes which, like the molten chocolate cake, came by quite by accident. According to food historian and restaurant critic John Mariani, Maccioni was entertaining a group of chefs at a hunting camp in Canada in 1975. It had been a long evening, everyone was ravenous -- but no one wanted to eat anything too heavy because of the late hour.

Maccioni went into the kitchen, grabbed a bunch of fresh vegetables, and made up two sauces, a cream sauce and a fresh tomato sauce. He steamed the vegetables, and served them and the sauces over spaghetti.

The dish was a sensation.

Maccioni dubbed it pasta primavera -- it's a wonderfully light evocation of sunshine and spring growth, and ''primavera'' means spring in Italian. He put it on his restaurant's menu, where it was soon the most popular item and was copied everywhere.

If you decide to make the recipe, make sure you buy the freshest vegetables available and the best spaghetti money can buy.  That's all there is to it.

Serves 4 to 6


1/3 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup minced basil

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise

2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick

6 asparagus stalks, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick

1 pound imported spaghetti

1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 cup thawed frozen baby peas

1/4 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth

1 to 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup heavy cream

6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

mascarpone cheese (optional see * below)


1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast for about 12 minutes, or until golden.

2. In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the basil and 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the tomatoes soften, 2 or 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli, snow peas, zucchini and asparagus, bring back to a boil and blanch for 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, quickly transfer the vegetables to a colander. Rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry.

4. Return the water to a boil and add salt. Add the spaghetti and boil until al dente, about 11 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are lightly browned. Add the blanched vegetables and the baby peas and toss over high heat until most of liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are just tender.

6. Reheat the tomato sauce. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the stockpot. Add the chicken stock, Parmesan, cream and butter and stir over low heat until the cheese melts*. Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and toss thoroughly. Transfer the spaghetti to 6 plates, top with the tomato sauce and serve.

*You can cut back on the butter and add mascarpone cheese.  I understand this is what they do at Le Cirque nowadays

photo istock via


  1. Isn't that interesting! I've been making a recipe very much like this for years and never knew it could be considered Primavera. It's called Pasta with Spring Vegetables and Prosciutto, from Gourmet April 1991. That's how long I've been making it, and have made it already once this year.

  2. Thanks for the history of the dish -- I do remember when EVERYONE had it on the menu but this (the original) version sounds delicious! It may be on the table at Linderhof soon!

  3. Carol,

    Thank you for the link. Anything from Gourmet is fabulous.


    Yes, the original was incredible. I could have posted this recipe and given it a fancy name and no one would be the wiser!

  4. Julieta, you are so right to point out the fact that
    Le Cirque's concept used two sauces. That's really
    what gives it distinction and it's the way I've made
    it for ages. However~it's a bother, all those components requiring separate blanching or toasting
    etc, can we admit that?

  5. Yes and no. A lot of these steps can be done earlier like the red sauce, and toasting the pine nuts. It reads a bit complicated but after you get the hang of it it should come together fairly quickly.

    My daughter took a look at the post this morning and went YUM! something I'm sure she wouldnt have done for what we think of as pasta primavera these days.

    I do get what you are saying though and I'm sure that is why it got so bastardized over the years.

  6. That sounds wonderful! Planting zucchini now!


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