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Cook's Exchange: Go fresh with pasta and spring veggies

By Andrea Yeager

Pasta and spring veggies make a good pair and also good eating. Two weeks ago I shared some lighter Bolognese recipes that prompted requests for more on pasta and fresh vegetables that are or will be appearing at farmers markets.

In most kitchens, pasta is a kitchen staple, something that always can be found in the pantry. Whole wheat pasta has gained in popularity with the demand for higher fiber content and less white flour, as has gluten-free pasta for those with dietary problems. Semolina flour is probably the most widely used. No matter the pasta used, there are different ways to incorporate trending and popular farmers' market ingredients into dried or fresh pasta.

When I teach kids' cooking classes, I let the students make their own pasta. Again, like veggies, fresh is best, and it is not that hard to make.

Pasta's versatility lets home cooks use and create some healthy, complex carb dishes that use fresh produce. Meatless meals are made for pasta, too.

Here are some suggestions for creating winning veggie and pasta dishes.

Asparagus: No more chopping. Try shaved asparagus in bucatini, a thick tubular pasta, or spaghetti. It's a trending dish certain to impress dinner guests. According to Google Trends, searches are up by 50 percent for asparagus pasta.

Fresh beets can be incorporated into pasta for a main dish.

Ditch the heavy cream and opt for yogurt instead. It makes a creamy pasta sauce that whittles the fat.

Fresh English or green peas are one of my favorites. When I was a child, my grandmother would make fresh peas with pearl onions or what she called English pea soup with fresh new potatoes.

Pasta and peas pair as well as my grandmother's potatoes and peas. Fresh green peas can be used to make pesto instead of basil.

A favorite fruit brightens a pasta dish. I love lemon juice and zest in pasta. Talk about a lighter way to go.

Avocados aren't just for guacamole any more. Use this healthy, good-fat vegetable in pasta sauces. I also like avocado toast for breakfast. Yum!

Let these recipes be a guide to pasta and veggies, but home cooks need to use what they like best. If you like zucchini or yellow squash, team them with pasta and maybe a fresh tomato or two. I like simple, fresh tomato sauces sans the meat but topped with good Parmesan cheese shavings.

Don't forget to share the experiments.

A Food Network star and host of her own TV show, Rachael Ray makes a dynamite lemon spaghetti that uses lemons, fresh basil, arugula and pistachios.

Again, this a great meatless meal that can be served with a simple salad.

SICILIAN LEMON SPAGHETTI

Grated zest of 2 organic lemons plus the juice of 6 lemons (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 pound of spaghetti

1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

2 to 3 cups baby arugula

Finely chopped toasted pistachios, for serving

Grated Pecorino cheese, for serving (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. In a serving bowl, whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper, and add the red pepper flakes (if using). Salt the boiling water, add the spaghetti and cook to al dente.

Before draining, ladle out about 1 cup of the cooking water. Combine the starchy water, spaghetti and torn basil in the serving bowl with the lemon dressing and toss to coat. Adjust the seasoning. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Serve in shallow bowls topped with pistachios and pecorino, if desired.

-- Recipe from the "Rachael Ray Show"

This recipe for asparagus and pappardelle pasta, which is a large, broad flat noodle, hit my e-mail box, and I knew that I had to make it. As I have said before, I like to have one evening meal a week that contains no meat. This one comes from a www.delish.com/ newsletter. I also love baby bella mushrooms.

The Fontina cheese is a bit pricey, but, oh, the flavor is worth the cost.

ASPARAGUS AND PAPPARDELLE PASTA

Kosher salt

1 pound pappardelle pasta

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound baby bella mushrooms, sliced into1/4-inch pieces

2 garlic cloves, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup vegetable stock

1 pound asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

1 cup freshly grated Fontina cheese

1/2 cup parsley leaves

Bring an 8-quart stock pot of water to a boil and generously season with salt. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and spread in an even layer; cook for 3 minutes before stirring to let the mushrooms brown. Add garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; cook 2 minutes more. Add stock and asparagus; using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to remove the browned garlic and mushrooms. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add butter, pasta and both cheeses; gently mix with tongs. If the pasta seems dry, slowly add reserved pasta water until desired consistency.

Serve in skillet or transfer pasta to a platter and top with grated Parmesan, drizzle of olive oil and parsley. Serve immediately.

-- From Delish.com

PEA PESTO

For a pea pesto, whirl 1- 1/2 cups green peas (fresh or frozen), olive oil, Parmesan cheese, a couple of garlic cloves, olive oil and pine nuts in a food processor or blender. The sauce is done and can be served with a favorite pasta or as an appetizer spread on crostini. I prefer thicker pasta for this because the pesto sticks so nicely to it.

Can't find rhubarb

"Where can you get rhubarb along the Coast?" Larry George asked. "Even frozen would be nice. It freezes well, but I cannot find it in local grocery stores."

Readers, have you seen rhubarb in the supermarkets? If so, where? Please share the information.

Whataburger sauce

A reader named Mrs. Whitman wants a recipe for the barbecue sauce that was featured on a Whataburger sandwich a few years ago.

Does anyone remember this sauce? If you do, send it my way.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net or Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535-4567.

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