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One-pan pasta an homage to early spring vegetables

Recipe: Asparagus, fresh peas and mint combine with lemon, spinach

Pasta with green vegetables on a blue plate
Looks like spring, doesn't it? The pasta, veggies and the light, lemony sauce all
cook together in one pan. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Ingredients
The peas, lemon and mint all were grown in my backyard.

Happy first day of spring! I sought out a recipe for today that would embody the freshness and the beautiful green of the season. I had asparagus at hand, plus my first harvest of tender peas and lots of fresh mint.

This is one of those trick recipes, where everything cooks in the same pan, and it works quite well. I found it on food52.com , but the original author is Anna Jones from her book “The Modern Cook’s Year.” I’ve adapted the serving amount; it can be easily doubled. Be sure to choose a pasta that cooks in 8 minutes or less; I used thin spaghetti.

The recipe goes quickly, so prep as much as you can before starting to cook. Use a large lidded frying pan, sauté pan or wok that the pasta can fit in flat. (In my case, I broke the thin spaghetti in half before cooking.)

pasta in pan
Start with the dry pasta in the pan.

One-pan asparagus, lemon and pea pasta

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side

Ingredients :

Large handful clean spinach, baby spinach or sorrel leaves

Zest and juice of 1 lemon, separated

Salt

8 ounces dry pasta, such as thin spaghetti or angel hair

1/2 pound thick or thin asparagus, woody ends snapped off

1/2 cup peas in pod, sliced crosswise in half (if pods are fresh and tender) or 1/2 cup shelled or frozen (defrosted) peas

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Handful of fresh mint leaves (chopped or whole leaves, as desired)

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions:

In the microwave or a tea kettle, heat 3 cups water to boiling.

Pan with red tongs
Use tongs to flip the pasta over to make sure it's evenly cooked.

In a small bowl, "scrunch" the spinach or sorrel between your hands with a pinch of salt and a bit of lemon juice. Set aside. Cut the top 2 inches from the asparagus stalks, set aside, and slice the remainder of the stalks into 1/4-inch rounds.

Place the dry pasta in the frying pan. Add the garlic, lemon zest, oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pot. Pour in 2-1/2 cups of the hot water, put the lid on the pan and bring to a boil. Remove the lid and simmer on high for 4 minutes, turning the pasta in the boiling water with tongs every 30 seconds or so. After 4 minutes, stir in the asparagus rounds and the pea pods or peas, and continue turning the pasta for 4 more minutes.

Stir in the reserved asparagus tips, the spinach or sorrel and the mint leaves, then the lemon juice. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

Most of the water should be evaporated by this point. Check one piece of pasta -- it should be al dente, not crunchy or mushy. If still too crunchy, add some of the remaining boiled water and simmer another minute or two.

Pasta and veggies
The pasta is nearly done here. A minute off the heat will help
it absorb the last of the water.

Once the pasta is at the al dente stage, remove the pan from the heat and allow the pasta to absorb the remaining water, forming a lemony sauce.

Serve immediately, topped as desired with a grind or two of black pepper and some grated Parmesan.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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