Spring Vegetables with Four-Cheese Tortellini

This dish really is sauce with pasta rather than the usual pasta with sauce. It’s a delicious way to eat lots of healthful vegetables while enjoying enough pasta to satisfy you and resisting going overboard with the calories. I still can’t believe that a serving size for pasta is 1 cup! Seems unfair, but it’s true.

Ingredients

  • Sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups green peas, fresh or frozen
  • ½ pound asparagus, tough stems trimmed and discarded, remaining stems cut into 1 -inch lengths, with tips separated
  • 4 cups (about ½ pound) broccoli florets
  • 1 pound (about 4 cups) four-cheese tortellini or vegan “cheese” tortellini
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large spring onion, cut in half, then into thin ribs
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
  • Black pepper
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans (or 1 28-ounce can) no-salt-added chopped tomatoes
  • 4 medium basil leaves
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese or vegan cheese alternative (optional)

Method

  1. Bring 4 cups of lightly salted water to a boil in a small pot over high heat. Set a rimmed sheet pan by the stove. When the water reaches a boil, add the peas and cook them for 2-3 minutes if using fresh peas, or for 1 minute if using frozen peas. Using a mesh hand strainer, scoop out the peas, shaking off excess water back into the pot, and transfer them to the sheet pan, spreading them on the pan to cool.
  2. Add the asparagus stems to the boiling water and cook for 1½ minutes, then add the tips and continue cooking for another minute. Using the strainer, scoop out the asparagus, shaking off excess water, then scatter the asparagus onto the pan, again spreading it across the pan to help cool it more quickly.
  3. Add the broccoli florets and cook for 3 minutes, then scoop out, shake off excess water, and transfer to the pan, spreading them across the pan, over the other vegetables. Set the pan aside. Remove the cooking water (you’ll have about 3 cups) from the heat and set aside until later in the recipe.
  4. Bring 6-8 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the tortellini according to package directions. When they are tender to your preference, drain them and turn them into a serving bowl.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened and lightly golden. Add the reserved cooking liquid from the vegetables. Cover and bring to a boil; this will take about a minute. Cook at a medium boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces a bit; then stir in the tomatoes and their liquid. Cover and cook at a medium boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes have broken down a bit and the sauce has thickened slightly.
  6. Stir in the cooked vegetables and the basil. Cover and cook for about a minute, stirring occasionally until heated through. Stir in the cooked tortellini. Taste for seasonings. Turn into the serving bowl. Top with additional black pepper and grated cheese, if desired.

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