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Mother's Day Pasta Primavera From a Mother-Daughter Cooking Duo

Transport mom to Italy with an authentic pasta recipe, plus 14 bright white wines
Photo by: Michael Harlan Turkell
A bright, high-acid white, like an Italian Verdicchio or Spanish Albariño, complements the pasta's green spring flavors.

Christine Dalton
Posted: April 29, 2016

Many of our fondest childhood memories revolve around food. From stealing nibbles of cookie dough while baking with grandma or diving into a juicy burger barbecued by dad, these early experiences shape the way we think about food in the decades to come.

For chef Sara Jenkins, growing up cooking and eating with her mother, the food writer and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins, engendered more than pleasant nostalgia. Her childhood spent living in Tuscany and Rome led to a passion for authentic Italian food and a career as a successful chef and restaurant owner of Porsena and Porchetta in New York's East Village. Today, the mother-daughter duo regularly collaborates in the kitchen, and last year they released a cookbook, The Four Seasons of Pasta.

Both Sara and Nancy credit each other for providing inspiration in the kitchen. "Every now and then a parent discovers that something you think you can do pretty well, your child can do ever so much better," Nancy says. "That's what it's like for me with Sara and cooking. She just took to it in a very natural way and became much better at it than I am."

Sara, though confident in the culinary talents she's been honing since age 15, doesn't hesitate to return praise to her mother. "Even though I'm the chef, she's much better at writing a real recipe for a cookbook," she explains. Many times, Sara created the recipes and Nancy refined them. "But some were completely her recipes, too. It was very collaborative."

The Jenkins women agree that Mother's Day is best spent cooking together at home, rather than going out to a restaurant. Sara is now a mother herself, with a 9-year-old son, Nadir, who hasn't yet adopted the familial love of cooking. "He's not a huge gourmand by any means," Sara says. "But I've made sure he eats pasta with tomato sauce, so whenever we go back to Italy, he'll have something to eat."

For Mother's Day, Sara recommends a lighter alternative to a red sauce to complement spring's bounty. From their cookbook, she shares a version of pasta primavera, Fusilli alla Vignarola.

Their years in Tuscany gave the Jenkinses an Italian sensibility about pasta. "Americans overcook it, oversauce it and complicate it, in general," Sara says, and Nancy concurs. When cooking pasta, Sara begins tasting it two minutes before the package directs, to ensure that it remains al dente.

The primavera dish features a bevy of green spring vegetables and can be adapted to whatever is in season. Although the recipe calls for fava beans, peas and asparagus, Sara recently made the dish with green chickpeas and wild fennel, while her mother plans to substitute artichokes in her next creation.

Nancy also gifted her daughter a love of wine, allowing sips mixed with water while living in Italy. That early love grew into a valuable skill, as Sara put together the wine list at her restaurant Porsena. "[The wine program] became one of my favorite parts of my job and one that I think more chefs should be actively involved in, since it is such a key component of the food," she explains.

For this dish, they both gravitate towards refreshing, minerally whites. "I tend to drink wine more seasonally rather than thinking about what goes with what," Nancy says. "Obviously you don’t want a great big fat California red with pasta primavera. With this, I might serve an Albariño from northwestern Spain because I think the acidity of the Albariño might be a nice foil to the acidity in the vegetables."

Sara suggests a Verdicchio, a wine with similar characteristics, but in her Italian comfort zone. She says, "I think you want some really bright acidity and both of those wines are going to have that." Below, get Wine Spectator reviews for 14 recently rated Albariños and Verdicchios.

Pasta Primavera (Fusilli alla Vignarola)

Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Sara Jenkins, 2015.

  • About 2 ounces thick-cut prosciutto, pancetta or guanciale, diced small
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium spring onion, chopped fine
  • 2 pounds fresh fava beans (1 1/2 cups shelled beans)
  • 2 pounds fresh peas (2 1/2 cups shelled peas)
  • 1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound (500 grams) fusilli or other pasta
  • Handful of fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or pecorino Toscano

1. In a skillet large enough to hold all the vegetables, combine the prosciutto with the oil and set over medium-low heat to soften.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil for the pasta.

3. Add the onion to the skillet and stir. Let the onion cook briefly, just to soften it, and then add the fava beans, peas and asparagus. Raise the heat to medium and stir and cook briefly. As the vegetables start to soften, add 1 cup of the boiling pasta water, along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, uncovered, at a rapid boil so that the vegetables retain all their bright color and flavor. By the time the vegetables are tender, there should be just a few spoonsful of syrupy liquid left in the bottom of the pan.

4. Meanwhile, add salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook (see note below). As the pasta cooks, add another ladleful of pasta water to the vegetables in the skillet, along with the mint. Bring to a simmer.

5. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and combine with the vegetables in a warm serving bowl, turning the pasta and vegetables together. Sprinkle a little Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and serve immediately, with the remaining cheese to pass at the table. Serves 6.

Note: For perfectly cooked pasta, Sara instructs, for about 1 pound (500 grams) of pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add a big spoonful of salt and then the pasta. Use a long-handled wooden spoon to push the pasta down into the boiling water. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil, then uncover and start timing the pasta according to the package directions. Start testing at least 2 minutes before the recommended time. Have ready a warm bowl. When the pasta is al dente, drain and turn it into the bowl with the vegetable mixture. Toss and serve immediately.

Recommended Albariños

Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

MARCOS LOJO ABAL Albariño Rias Baixas Chan de Rosas Cuvée Especial 2014 Score: 89 | $20
This white is generous but retains good grip. Peach, tangerine and floral notes mingle with briny accents, supported by firm acidity. Harmonious. Drink now. 2,400 cases made.—T.M.

PAZO CILLEIRO Albariño Rias Baixas 2015 Score: 89 | $20
Fresh and focused, this tangy, juicy white offers tart peach, gooseberry and fresh herb flavors, enlivened by crisp acidity. Peach and floral notes linger. Drink now through 2018. 30,000 cases made.—T.M.

BODEGAS LA CANA Albariño Rias Baixas La Caña 2014 Score: 88 | $18
Fresh, light and lively, this white delivers peach, quince and lime flavors that are bright and juicy. Crisp acidity keeps this focused, while a touch of fresh herb lends interest. Drink now. 3,344 cases made.—T.M.

PAGOS DEL REY Albariño Rias Baixas Pulpo 2014 Score: 88 | $28
Quince, nectarine and lime flavors mingle with ginger and briny notes in this expressive white, which is energetic and focused, with racy acidity underlying the lithe texture. Drink now. 2,500 cases made.—T.M.

TANGENT Albariño Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard 2014 Score: 88 | $17
Strikes an appealing balance between crisp, clean acidity and a smooth body, with plenty of lemon-scented citrus notes and a minerally detail. Drink now. 6,712 cases made.—M.W.

BODEGAS LA VAL Albariño Rias Baixas Finca Arantei Single Vineyard 2014 Score: 88 | $20
This white has focus and grip, with firm acidity supporting fresh pear, fennel and blanched almond flavors. A savory style, revealing a core of fruit. Drink now through 2018. 10,000 cases made.—T.M.

MARQUÉS DE CÁCERES Albariño Rias Baixas Deusa Nai 2014 Score: 87 | $17
Leesy and gingery notes frame pear and grapefruit flavors in this firm white, which has a solid texture and crisp acidity, with a nice balance of fruity and savory elements. Drink now. 2,700 cases imported.—T.M.

Recommended Verdicchios

GAROFOLI Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Classico Riserva Serra Fiorese 2010 Score: 90 | $15
Well-knit and medium-bodied, with juicy acidity backing the flavors of apricot tart, marzipan, smoky roasted hazelnut and lemon curd. Chamomile and toast notes linger on the aromatic finish. Drink now through 2020. 1,000 cases made.—A.N.

UMANI RONCHI Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva Classico Plenio 2013 Score: 90 | $35
Well-spiced and creamy, this sleek white is fresh and focused, offering flavors of crushed Asian pear, sliced almond, lemon meringue and dried apricot. Aromatic finish. Drink now through 2021. 2,000 cases made.—A.N.

TENUTA DI TAVIGNANO Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Misco 2014 Score: 89 | $18
Sleek acidity focuses this well-knit, medium-bodied white, which offers a stony underpinning and a subtle mix of crunchy yellow pear, ground ginger and white pepper flavors, accented by hints of preserved lemon and sliced almond. Drink now through 2021. 1,500 cases made.—A.N.

UMANI RONCHI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Villa Bianchi 2014 Score: 88 | $13
Well-knit and juicy, this balanced, medium-bodied white offers saline and stone notes underscoring flavors of Anjou pear and slivered almond, with hints of lemon peel and fresh tarragon. Drink now through 2019. 10,000 cases made.—A.N.

MAROTTI CAMPI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Luzano 2014 Score: 87 | $18
Almond blossom and smoke notes accent flavors of Asian pear, preserved lemon and dried apricot in this light- to medium-bodied white. Creamy, with a finish of moderate length. Drink now through 2018. 500 cases imported.—A.N.

UMANI RONCHI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Casal di Serra 2014 Score: 87 | $17
A bright, light- to medium-bodied white, layering snappy acidity with creamy notes of ripe apple, wet stone, verbena and ground ginger. Drink now through 2018. 8,000 cases made.—A.N.

ERCOLE VELENOSI Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico QuerciAntica 2014 Score: 86 | $15
Citrusy acidity and hints of smoke and petrol underscore ripe peach, lemon meringue and fresh tarragon notes in this creamy white. Drink now. 1,500 cases made.—A.N.

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