I was recently posed a question by an old friend that had happened to find herself seated in an Olive Garden Restaurant. She asked me, Chef, ‘Is Pasta alla Primavera supposed to be in a red sauce?’
I sighed. ‘Well, er…I suppose that if Olive Garden says so, then it must be true.’ (It’s not.)
Remember that Olive Garden commercial that claims: ‘All of our Chef’s go to Italy for training’?
Well it’s likely they’re not going to Bologna, but they’re sure are full of it.
When referring to ever popular array of Recipes alla Primavera, the words basically translate to mean ‘springtime style.’ History and repetition have also shown us that these dishes have vegetables in a garlic cream sauce with cheese or without, and sometimes just extra virgin olive oil. So in the way that some young arrogant chef that refused to read the Escoffier may think that it’s o.k. to use white wine in Coq Au Vin(that’s another story), Olive Garden in turn would be correct in saying, ‘Whatever, its just vegetables in any sauce we serve.’
But alas, we are discerning foodies and no, Marinara although a vegetable sauce, is not in fact Primavera. And the bigger question yet my friend, ‘What in the hell were you doing in an Olive Garden?’, ‘Tell me you were lost trying to find the best olives for your salad?’
It all comes down to expectations. If you order Pasta alla Primavera you would ‘expect’ to receive a light white wine based cream sauce with garlic, perhaps a little cheese and of course an assortment of tender but firm vegetables. If you go into The Olive Garden, expect to get sub-standard, ill-prepared, and vaguely edible versions of what this 1% corporation considers to be Italian Food. And ‘expect’ that while your slurping down your microwaved pasta and canned red sauce with frozen vegetables that the CEO of Darden Corp is ‘expecting’ his Pasta alla Primavera to be served at 6:00 sharp by the veranda, near the stream, over looking the rolling Tuscan hillside scattered with Olive Gardens. Because, believe me me. Nothing is free and you’re paying for that all you can eat salad and breadsticks…
So, as for a recipe…not really important. We know what we like, if you want Alfredo for your sauce, here’s the link. Perhaps you would like to just saute the vegetables and deglaze the pan with white wine, add a touch of cream and toss with pasta. But the most important thing is how to get the vegetables to that desired consistency of perfection that we ‘expect’. So the lesson served here will be on Blanching.
How To Blanch (or Par Boiling 101).
First things first, cut your assorted vegetables (keep em separated) to a consistent size so that when reheated together later they will cook evenly together, with none of the vegetables being more cooked than the other. Next, bring a pot of water to a boil and add kosher salt. How much salt? A great Chef once said that the water should smell like the ocean. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare an ice bath which should be a bowl of water with ice in it. Add the hardest vegetables to the water first like Carrots. Boiling these carrots until they reach the ‘Firm to the Bite’ stage. Using a slotted spoon remove the carrots and place in the ice bath, this is called ‘Shocking’. Continue to cook each vegetable in the fashion until all are ‘Blanched’ and ‘Shocked’. Notice that Asparagus will ‘Blanch’ much faster than those Carrots. Drain and save vegetable until your ready to use.