Nonna's Pasta Primavera

  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings

You don't have to wait for primavera--springtime--to make this quick skillet sauce. You probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator all year: canned tomatoes; onions; garlic; a few perennially fresh vegetables like broccoli, mushrooms, and zucchini; and sweet peas from the freezer. This recipe lists the vegetables I prefer, but don't be afraid to use others, if that's what you have on hand.


6quarts water for boiling plus a bowl of ice water
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2cup onion, sliced
2cloves garlic, crushed
1can 28 ounce, San Marzano or other Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices, crushed by hand or 1 1/2 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1pound spaghetti
1/2teaspoon salt
4leaves basil, shredded
1/2cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
Vegetables, 3 cups in total of any of the following:
Zucchini, sliced crosswise in 1/2-inch pieces
Small broccoli florets on short stems, about 1-inch wide (slice if necessary)
Green beans, trimmed and sliced on the bias in 3/4-inch lengths
Frozen sweet peas
Asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces


  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. In the meantime, prepare a bowl with ice water. When the pasta water is boiling, dump the 3 cups of vegetables in the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil, and cook uncovered for 2 minutes. Scoop out the pieces with a spider or strainer, drain briefly, and drop into the ice water. When thoroughly chilled, drain them in a colander.
  2. In the meantime, begin making the sauce. In a wide skillet with the olive oil, scatter the onion slices and crushed garlic cloves. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat until the onions are wilted.
  3. Pour the crushed tomatoes and juices into the skillet. Slosh the tomato can with 1 cup of water and add to the skillet (or add the cherry tomatoes).  Bring all to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Drop the pasta into the boiling water while the sauce cooks.
  5. Add the blanched vegetables to the skillet and stir them into the sauce, adding 1 cup of pasta water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring all to a simmer and cook for about 3 minutes or more, until the blanched vegetables are cooked thoroughly but still al dente. If too dry, add a little more pasta water.
  6. Drain the pasta when cooked and add to the skillet with sauce. Toss in the shredded basil and toss all well. Drizzle the mixture with extra-virgin olive oil and let the pasta and sauce cook together for a few minutes.
  7. When the pasta is well coated with sauce, remove from the heat. Toss in the grated cheese and serve.

Kids Can: Help choose their favorite vegetables; wash the vegetables; shred the basil; clean the garlic and onion; and add a little bit of freshly grated cheese before it goes to the table.

Reprinted with permission from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Family Kitchen: Nonna’s Birthday Surprise (Running Press, 2013).