(This story first appeared on Tastebook, where I'm doing an occasional cooking column. Check 'em out.)
Spring doesn’t exist in New Orleans.
Not in the way many people envision spring, at least. Misty days, temperate nights. Rain, murky sunshine and lots of shoots, sprouts and other edible green things creeping up from the warming ground. Nope. None of that happens in the City That Care Forgot.
Spring is beautiful here, don’t get me wrong. It’s warm—verging on hot—and the heat whisks by, not weighted down by the humidity that drops in late spring and doesn’t relent until fall.
Still, no asparagus grows round these parts. No sweet English peas. I miss little about my youth in the Bay Area or my decade in San Francisco. Spring though? That I wish for.
I make do, as we all must. I’ve recently starting cooking from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Greens. The book is already a favorite. I’ve made four recipes and each one was superb. The recipes work. Not a given in modern cookbooks. Plus, Bloomfield and her co-writer, JJ Goode, helped me drag a bit of hazy West Coast spring into my Deep South life, thanks to the book’s recipe for fresh tagliatelle with asparagus and Parmesan fonduta.
The fonduta is unlike any I’ve encountered. Like a kind of rich Alfredo sauce but with much more dimension. This sauce, built from egg yolks, good Parmesan and crème fraîche, has bite, tang that demands you keep eating.
There was, of course, no great asparagus available near me. So I went for snow peas. I did have a few spring onions from the market, those scallion-ish onions that are like demure cousins to the brash onions we all know.
Spring onions. Okay, maybe there is a little spring here after all.
Fresh Pasta with Fonduta
Use whatever decent fresh pasta you can find at the store. Or go hard and make your own. You ideally want a shape that is long, semi-wide trips. Tagliatelle or even fettuccine. Pappardelle is a little wide, but if that’s all you can find, so be it. And choose whichever green spring-y vegetable piques your interest: asparagus, English peas, snap peas. Your call.
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1½ cups crème fraîche
- 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated plus more for finishing the dish
- 1 garlic clove, finely grated or chopped
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound snap peas, cut on the diagonal into about ½-inch pieces
- 1 spring onion, white part sliced thin (optional)
- 1 to 1½ pounds fresh pasta
Bring a large pot of water to boil.
Meanwhile, bring a bit of water to boil in a small pot (or prepare a double boiler). In a heatproof bowl that will fit snugly in the pot without touching the boiling water, whisk the egg yolks, crème fraîche, cheese and garlic together.
Set the bowl in the pot and whisk constantly, scraping the sides and removing the bowl from the pot every few minutes. You want the mixture to cook slow. Don’t let it bubble! The mixture will eventually turn smooth. Cook just until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 6 to 8 minutes. Set aside in a warm place.
Salt the large pot of boiling water so it tastes almost as salty as the sea. Add the peas and cook until tender, only about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the pasta and cook until tender with a little bite, about 3 minutes. Drain the pasta.
Add the pasta, peas and spring onions to the now-empty pot. Pour in the fonduta and toss gently but thoroughly. Season with salt. Transfer to a bowl or plates and finish with more Parmigiano. Eat!