Pasta Primavera

This classic pasta dish is made with a colorful array of sautéed vegetables in a light Parmesan lemon sauce. Primavera, actually means "springtime" in Italian and this is a great pasta recipe that features bright vegetables found in the spring and early summer. This quick and easy dinner may have a long ingredient list, but it can still be served up in about 30 minutes.

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What is Pasta Primavera?

Pasta Primavera is a classic pasta dish. When I say “classic”, I’m not referring to classic French or even Italian cuisine, but an American classic that has been around for roughly 50 years. It is first thought to have appeared in New York in the late 1970s, but its name certainly sounds Italian. Primavera actually means “springtime” in Italian and the pasta is made with fresh vegetables that come appear in the spring and early summer.
Pasta primavera in a two white bowls with parmesan cheese on a small plate.

Start with Good Pasta

Any good pasta dish starts with the best pasta and yes, the brand of pasta you use does make a difference. Ideally, you want to use a pasta that uses a high quality semolina flour. The challenge is knowing what quality semolina is used by different brands. For a few tips on how to choose a good pasta brand, click here

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Ingredients on a wooden cutting board - pasta, vegetables.

The Best Ingredients

There are so many delicious vegetables available for pasta primavera and there are no limitations on what you can use. Just go to the market and get whatever looks fresh and ripe. There is also no set number of vegetables to use for pasta primavera. If there’s a vegetable in the recipe that you don’t particularly like, leave it out or substitute more of another vegetable that you do like. In general, you want about 5 cups of vegetables, no matter what they are.

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Cut up vegetables on a cutting board.

Tips for Cutting Vegetables

When you cut the vegetables, do try to keep them consistent in size – slice all the carrots evenly, dice the peppers evenly, make the broccoli florets an even size. You get the gist. You can see how to properly slice onions here and how to easily dice peppers here. Making sure the vegetables are cut uniformly means that they will cook uniformly too.

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Pasta primavera in a sauté pan with a wooden spoon sticking out.

Light Cream Sauce

The cream sauce for this version of pasta primavera is so light that it’s almost unfair to call it a sauce at all! Think of it as a moistening for the pasta and vegetables. It needs to be just enough to hold everything together and help the flavors blend. If you want a creamier sauce, take a look at my Fetuccine Alfredo sauce and make Alfredo sauce to toss over the pasta and vegetables instead.

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Pasta primavera in a big white bowl with a green napkin on the side.

Chicken Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera can be made vegetarian (use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock) or you can add some chicken for a little added protein. Just sauté the chicken in the skillet and set it aside to cook the vegetables. Then, toss everything back together at the end. You can even use leftover chicken if you have some – heat it through thoroughly in the skillet with the vegetables.

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Serving pasta primavera from a large bowl with two serving utensils.

 

Featured Recipe Techniques

More about the skills used in this recipe.

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How to Cook Pasta

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Pasta Primavera

  • Prep Time: 15 m
  • Cook Time: 15 m
  • Total Time: 30 m
  • Servings:
    6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • olive oil
  • ½ red onion sliced
  • 2 carrots sliced
  • ½ red bell pepper diced
  • ½ yellow bell pepper diced
  • ½ zucchini sliced
  • 5 stalks asparagus cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ clove garlic minced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, setting a timer. When you have 2 minutes of cooking time left, scoop out and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drop the broccoli florets into the water with the pasta. Drain the pasta and broccoli together and set them aside. (Do not rinse.)
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle a little olive oil into the pan and sauté the red onion and carrots for a few minutes, until they start to soften. Add the red and yellow peppers, sauté for a few minutes and then add the zucchini and asparagus. Add the Italian seasoning and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set them aside.
  3. Add the butter and garlic to the now empty pan and sauté for 1 minute. Add the white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the stock and lemon juice. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until liquid has reduced a little. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and lemon zest and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Return the vegetables to the pan along with the cooked pasta and broccoli. Gently toss over medium heat just to heat everything through. If needed, add some of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce. Stir in the fresh parsley and serve immediately with extra Parmesan cheese.
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