This is what spring looks like. The subtle beauty of all these green shades tangled together helps us understand the idea of renewal reflected in the season’s bloom. In Italy it’s called cianfotta, the all-purpose dish that changes with the seasons as new vegetables appear and leave the markets. This saute is one of my master recipes.
Serve this saute as a side dish, or make it a one-course dinner by adding nuts and a bit of soft or aged goat cheese. You can make the meal a bit more substantial by adding a handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds.
Remember, the recipe is a template. You can add sliced and trimmed baby artichokes or fava beans. You may omit the mint, or use onions instead of leeks.
Spring Vegetable Saute
1 large leek, or 2 to 3 small leeks
2 stalks green garlic, sliced, or 2 to 4 peeled garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 pound sugar snap peas
1 bunch thin asparagus
1 head romaine lettuce
1/2 to 1 pound English peas, shelled
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Cut off the top of the leek and set aside for another use (broth). Trim bottom of leek. Thinly slice leek and rinse thoroughly in strainer. Set aside cleaned, sliced leeks.
Wash and trim the romaine and cut it into slightly thin strips (not quite a chiffonade). Set aside.
String the sugar snaps. Cut them in half or thirds (depending on size) on the diagonal so the tiny peas show. Set aside.
Trim asparagus of tough bottom parts of the stalk. Cut off tips and set aside. Cut asparagus stalks on a sharp diagonal, stopping when you feel you’ve reached the tougher part of the stalk. Combine with tips and set aside.
Now that you have all the veggies prepped, it’s time to cook the dish. Pick a pan large enough to saute each vegetable in one layer. You don’t want a lot of steaming. You want caramelization. If your pan isn’t big enough, don’t worry about it.
Start by filming the surface of the pan with olive oil. First cook the leeks over moderate-high heat. Stir as you need and continue to cook until the leeks are soft and brown in some places. Add a bit of salt to make the process go faster if you want. Add the garlic and/or green garlic to the leeks and continue cooking until garlic gives off its characteristic aroma. Scrape leeks and garlic into a large bowl.
Add a bit more oil to the empty pan (no need to wash it in between) and saute the sugar snap peas with a bit of salt over high heat, stirring often until they are just tender. Scrape into bowl with leeks.
Add a bit more oil to the pan and saute the asparagus like you did the sugar snaps with a bit of salt. Cook just until tender, but not soft or mushy. Scrape into bowl with other veggies.
Add a bit more oil to the pan and add the romaine and a bit of salt. Saute over high heat until the romaine begins to wilt. Add the English peas and mix in with the romaine. Continue cooking until the peas are just tender. Scrape mixture into the bowl.
Now add the chopped mint to the bowl and toss the veggies together. Add salt to taste if necessary. Let veggies sit at room temperature until ready to serve. Do not reheat, or you’ll lose the freshness of the dish. Serves 3.
Per serving: 313 calories; 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 40 percent calories from fat); 40 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 385 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 12.5 g fiber.