This is a dish best made in the spring, when the bright green vegetables are at their crispest, sweetest, and brightest. Asparagus in particular is sweet and crisp when first picked. As it sits out of the soil, its sugars rapidly transform into starches. Even after a day, there is a striking difference in its sweetness, which is why winter asparagus—usually shipped long distances from warmer climates—is never as good as the stuff you get from the farmers’ market in the spring.
Of course, once you know the basic process for this dish—blanching and chilling your vegetables, making your garlic oil, and then combining everything at the last minute—you can improvise, using whatever vegetables look best.
SERVES 4 TO 6
8 ounces asparagus, ends trimmed and cut on a bias into 2-inch segments
1 medium zucchini, split lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch half-moons
1 medium summer squash, split lengthwise and cut into ¼-inch half-moons
1 cup shelled fava beans (optional)
1 cup broccoli florets cut into ½-inch pieces (optional)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, split in half (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 medium cloves garlic, 4 smashed and left whole, 4 finely sliced, 4 minced or grated on a Microplane
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound short twisted or tubular pasta such as gemelli, cavatappi, or rotini
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest and 1 tablespoon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Using a fine-mesh strainer, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to chill. Repeat with the zucchini, summer squash, fava beans, and broccoli, one vegetable at a time. If using fava beans, peel them. Combine all the blanched vegetables in a large bowl, add the peas and cherry tomatoes, and set aside.
2. Heat the oil and 4 smashed garlic cloves in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic is gently sizzling. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sizzle until the garlic is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Discard the garlic cloves, leaving the oil in the skillet, and return the pan to high heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic just beings to turn pale golden brown, about 45 seconds. Add the minced garlic and pepper flakes and toss until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Set aside.
3. Place the pasta in a large pot and cover with hot water. Add a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking. Continue to cook until the pasta is fully softened but retains a slight bite in the center (about 1 minute less than the box recommends after the pasta reaches a boil). Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid, and return to the pot, set over medium-low heat.
4. Add the vegetables, garlic sauce, and half of the reserved pasta water and stir until the sauce comes together and coats the pasta, about 2 minutes, adding more pasta water until as necessary until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in the parsley, lemon zest and juice, and cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing Parmesan at the table.