One of my favourite spring memories as a kid was helping my grandmother shuck broad beans. We’d sit under her terraced verandah with a huge bucket of fagioli, as they’re known in Italian, and we’d pluck out the beans one by one. I remember freaking out the first time I shucked them. The outside skin is really tough and you have split it with your nail to open it. Inside a handful of bright green beans are nestled in this furry little shell, which feels like peach fuzz. It’s the strangest texture. One time, I tried to take a bite out of the broad bean skin and I promise you, it’s bitter, horrible and leaves your entire mouth tingling.
As we shucked, my nonna would tell me stories about the Old Country. Her stories of a childhood in Calabria were always tinged in sadness because she was orphaned before she turned 15 and so much of her early years were spent helping her aunty. It’s almost sad to think that she is such a good cook because she grew up in the kitchen rather than in a school. She’d tell me her mother had always wanted her to get an education, but her uncle refused to send to her to school after he took her in.
Growing up, we never ate fagioli unless my nonna prepared them and it’s funny to think that, years later, I now find myself rediscovering them in country Tuscany in entirely difference circumstances.
My father-in-law is a keen gardener and he always has broad beans fresh from his orto this time of year. My nonna would transform them into a soup she called pasta e fagioli. My in-laws eat them raw with sharp pecorino cheese. I’ve settled for something in between for today’s recipe – Pasta Primavera or Italian spring vegetable pasta with broad beans and sausage.
This recipe is actually one of Giulio’s creations. He is always inventing new pasta recipes. A couple of months ago, we ate variations of cacio e pepe for an entire week. Before that it was 50 shades of Amatriciana. When Giulio becomes obsessed with a pasta sauce, he makes it non stop.
My nonna’s pasta e fagioli is a heavy wintery soup with really rich meaty flavours. Since we’re heading into spring, I wanted something lighter that can been thrown together quickly for a mid-week dinner. So instead of slowly braising the meat, I’ve opted for a spiced sausage. Pork and fennel works great, but so would any spicy Italian sausage you can find.
In a nod to the Tuscan tradition of eating broad beans with pecorino cheese, I’ve included some cheese of my own in this Italian spring vegetable pasta recipe. But I’m using ricotta salata or smoked ricotta. You want a cheese with a bit of ommph or it’ll disappear amid all the rich flavours of pork and bean. In my hometown of Manciano, we have an amazing cheese shop, which smokes its own ricotta. Smoked ricotta has a really spicy and strong flavour. Imagine beef jerky if it were a cheese. It brings a lovely earthy richness to this pasta dish, but if you can’t find it, an aged pecorino would work great, as would fresh ricotta or feta crumbled over the top before serving.
But the ingredient I am the most excited about, aside from the broad beans, is the pasta in my spring vegetable pasta recipe!
It isn’t your stock standard spaghetti. I was at the supermarket the other day and came across this gorgeous ancient grains fresh tagliatelle. Ancient grains are basically the grains that were all the rage before white bread. So spelt, barley, millet, sorghum and farro. The pasta I found at the supermarket has a mix of them, so it’s this beautiful light brown colour with a lovely toasted nutty flavour. Ancient grains pasta is also high fibre and thought to be healthier for you, so it’s a win, win situation.
This spring vegetable pasta recipe is a great one when you short of time, but want something that’s big in flavour. It really is just a case of chopping, frying and stirring through the pasta.
But, and this is a Giulio Italian pasta secret I am about to share, don’t throw out the water you cooked the pasta in. As the pasta cooks, it releases starch and flavours the water. So if your sauce is a little dry, a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water added to the pan and tossed through creates the most amazing creamy sauce without the need for flour or any other thickener!
I really recommend you give this spring vegetable pasta a whirl. It’ll definitely bring a piece of the Tuscan countryside to your mid-week dinners!
Spring Vegetable Pasta (Pasta Primavera) with Broad Beans and Sausage
250g Italian sausage, skin removed
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chilli flakes
100g shucked broad beans
200g ricotta salata, cubed
500g of fresh ancient grain or normal tagliatelle
zest of 1/2 lemon, finely grated
freshly chopped parsley, to serve
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan until hot. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and fry for 1 minute. Add the sausage meat and fennel seeds and stir until golden. Add the broad beans and fry for 3 minutes. Remove the sausage from the heat and set aside.
Fry the ricotta salata in the same frying pan you used to fry the sausage. Cook until golden. Remove from the pan.
Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water following the instructions on the packet. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Return the sausage to the pan. Add the pasta with about 4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Stir until almost all the liquid is absorbed and you’re left with a creamy sauce. Remove from the heat, top with the cooked ricotta, lemon zest, parsley and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Looking for more Spring pasta recipes? Try my Red wine pasta with nettle butter sauce or Conchiglie ripiene (stuffed pasta shells).