Creamy Pasta Primavera

A plate of pasta primavera with asparagus, ham and sun-dried tomatoes.

Are you looking for a creamy pasta primavera with a healthy twist? One that you can customize according to what you’ve got on hand? This vegetable pasta primavera uses asparagus, peas and mushrooms, with options for adding other vegetables you might have handy. Add diced ham, chicken or shrimp for a fuller meal to please the whole family.

Mushrooms asparagus onion and lemons on a cutting board for healthy pasta primavera.

Why you’ll love this recipe:

If you enjoy pasta, but don’t want a heavy alfredo sauce adorning it (butter, cheese & heavy cream) you’ll love this healthy pasta primavera. With plenty of fresh vegetables and a lightened up sauce, it only tastes indulgent.

Why is it called primavera?

Primavera actually comes from the Latin Primus, meaning first and Vera, meaning Spring. So, first spring.  Primavera is an apparent ellipsis of the Italian, alla primavera.

Vegetable Primavera got its public start at the swanky New York restaurant, Le Cirque, where it appeared as a yet-unnamed item on the menu, until Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey  wrote an article for the New York Times, catapulting its popularity and requiring a title or designation. Pasta Primavera was born.

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  • Small Shell Pasta – or other small pasta such as farfalle, rotini, or macaroni.
  • Mushrooms – I used button mushrooms, but cremini, or assorted wild mushrooms would be great too.
  • Asparagus – preferably fresh asparagus, but you can also use frozen. Avoid canned asparagus.
  • Olive Oil – Doesn’t have to be a fancy olive oil, just an everyday variety works.
  • Onion – I used yellow onion, but you can also use white or red onions.
  • Ham – I used leftover diced ham, but you can also buy chopped ham in the meat case. Avoid deli ham for this recipe.
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes – I used oil packed tomatoes because they tend to be sweeter and richer.
  • Parmesan Cheese – preferably freshly grated.
  • Salt & Pepper – to taste.
  • Fresh Basil – optional, but adds a fresh flavor to the pasta primavera.
  • Italian Parsley – optional, but the fresh herbs make the dish pop visually.
  • Butter – for the creamy lemon sauce.
  • Flour – You can use all-purpose flour or Wondra, which helps make a creamy, smooth sauce.
  • Vegetable Broth – you can use low-sodium store-bought or try my homemade vegetable broth from scraps.
  • Half and Half – to give the primavera sauce a little richness.
  • Lemon Zest – to season the creamy pasta sauce.

Since then, scores of chefs, cooks and bloggers have twisted, bended and tweaked pasta primavera to simply mean pasta with vegetables. Some versions have a cream sauce, others have a tomato based sauce.  Others aren’t sauced at all. Some use only fresh tomatoes, others bring an entire garden to the party.  Any way you look at it, it’s all good.

shocking asparagus and sautéing mushrooms for healthy pasta primavera.

What vegetables are in pasta primavera?

Traditionally, primavera can be made using many different vegetables. For me, the key is to use what is seasonal and consider the blend of ingredients – do they seem like a good fit together?  In this creamy primavera recipe, I used asparagus, mushrooms, onion and sun-dried tomatoes, but these other garden vegetables would also work well:

  • Broccoli (cut into small florets)
  • Peas (Frozen, defrosted)
  • Zucchini (diced)
  • Yellow Squash (diced)
  • Eggplant (diced)
  • Fresh Tomatoes (seeded and diced)
  • Sweet Peppers (diced)
  • Cauliflower (cut into bite-sized florets)
  • Snap Peas
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Leeks

Pick 2-4 and mix it up.

  • Zucchini + Squash + Peas + Tomatoes
  • Broccoli + Cauliflower
  • Bell Peppers + Eggplant + Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas + Mushrooms + Shallots
  • Spinach + Leeks + Peas
making creamy lemon sauce and adding cooked seashell pasta.

Creamy lemon sauce for the primavera

You can’t think about pasta primavera without thinking of the sauce, am I right? I love a good cream sauce, but they stick to my belly and thighs long after enjoying the meal.  

Think about this: Just 1 cup of heavy cream has 821 calories, 55 grams of saturated fat and 88 grams of total fat. Holy sweatpants.

This lightened up the sauce, which makes nearly 2 cups and has only 338 calories, with 19 grams of saturated fat and 30 grams of fat overall. I’m not saying it’s diet food, but it’s much better than the heavy cream version and still makes a creamy pasta primavera that will have you licking your lips in anticipation.

Ingredients for lightened up creamy lemon sauce

Which pasta should I use for pasta primavera

Traditionally, long, thin pastas were used, but nowadays there are no rules. In my view, you should look at your ingredients and let them determine the best pasta.

  • For instance if you did a spinach, leek and pea combination, I’d say a long noodle would be best, because the leeks and spinach will wrap themselves up in the pasta for twisting.
  • If you chop the ingredients into bite sized pieces so that they’ll be easy to scoop or pierce with a fork, shorter pasta work well.

Best long pastas for creamy pasta primavera:

  • Fettucini
  • Linguiune
  • Spaghetti or Thin Spaghetti.
  • I don’t recommend angel hair because you need something a bit sturdier to hold up to the creamy lemon sauce. However, if you were using saucing with a broth or light butter sauce, angel hair or vermicelli would work well.

Best short pastas for vegetable primavera:

  • Penne
  • Orecchiette
  • Small Shell or Seashell Pasta
  • Farfalle
Tossing pasta in creamy lemon sauce and sprinkling with grated Parmesan.

How to make primavera:

  1. Trim the asparagus stalks of the tough bottom portion.  The best way to determine this is to pick up a stalk of asparagus, holding it at the halfway point and the bottom of the stalk. Bend the asparagus until it breaks.  Discard the bottom of the asparagus stalk.  Line up the rest of the asparagus on a cutting board, so the tips are even. Trim the remainder of the stalks, using the broken stalk as a guide.
  2. Cut the tender stalks into 1″ pieces.
  3. Blanch and shock the asparagus. If you’re not familiar with those terms, it just means that you bring a pot of water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook until it’s just tender (2-3 minutes). Then use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the cooked asparagus to an ice bath (ice and water in a bowl).  This stop the cooking and keeps the asparagus that beautiful bright green color.  If you skip this step, the asparagus will continue cooking and won’t look as appetizing.
  4. Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until tender and transfer to a small bowl.
  5. Get the water started for the pasta, so it’s ready to go as soon as the sauce is complete.
  6. Saute the onions in the pan until tender, then add the butter and flour, stirring until you have a bubbly paste — about 1 minute.
  7. Stir in the broth and heat to boiling (stirring constantly) until slightly thickened and saucy.  Add the half and half and lemon zest and stir to combine – this is the creamy lemon sauce — it’s not overpowering but rather, light and fresh.
  8. Stir in the cooked pasta, followed by the grated cheese until the pasta is coated.
  9. Next come the add-ins. Add the asparagus, ham, cooked mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and mix to combine.
  10. Finish the creamy vegetable pasta primavera with a final sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs (if using). Serve.
Mixing in ham and asparagus, sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms into the healthy pasta primavera.

Other variations:

  • Instead of ham, add cooked chicken or shrimp.
  • Make it vegetarian by skipping the ham and using vegetable broth.
  • Use different pasta shapes like elbow macaroni, bowties or orecchiette.
A skillet filled with vegetable primavera.

I have to be honest, when I make this healthy pasta primavera for a weeknight dinner, we eat it straight outta the skillet (less dishes) but if I were serving this for company, I’d probably pull out a nice serving bowl.

We are adding extra parmesan cheese to the vegetable primavera in the skillet.

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vegetable primavera on a plate with a glass of white wine.
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4.70 from 10 votes

Creamy Pasta Primavera with Ham & Asparagus

This luscious vegetable primavera has a creamy lemon sauce tossed with shell pasta and diced ham. It’s the perfect spring pasta dish for the whole family.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Keyword asparagus, cream sauce, ham, pasta
Dietary Restrictions Egg Free
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4


For Vegetable Primavera with Ham

  • ½ pound asparagus trimmed, cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms wiped clean, sliced into bite size pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • ½ pound shell pasta cooked to al dente
  • 1 cup ham diced
  • ½ cup sun dried tomatoes diced, drained if oil-packed, reconstituted and drained if dried,
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped, optional
  • 2 tablespoons fresh italian parsley chopped, optional

For Creamy Lemon Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • tablespoon flour
  • cups homemade vegetable broth or chicken broth
  • ¼ cup half and half
  • 1 lemon zested


  • In a medium sauce pan, boil 2 cups of water. Add asparagus and cook for 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. While asparagus blanches, fill a medium-sized bowl with ice and water. With a slotted spoon or spider, transfer blanched asparagus to the ice bath and plunge it into the ice water to stop the cooking.
  • Fill a 3 quart saucepan with water and a pinch of salt. Heat to boiling. Add shells and cook until al dente according to package directions.
  • Meanwhile, In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned 3-5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Liquid will collect from the mushrooms as it sits, be sure to drain it off before adding mushrooms to the final dish.

For Creamy Lemon Sauce:

  • Add butter and onion to the pan and saute until the onion is softened.
  • Stir in flour until everything is well combined and no dry bits of flour remain. Cook and stir for one minute until bubbly.
  •  Add chicken broth a little at a time to the flour mixutre, stirring and scraping the pan constantly. Cook until mixture begins to thicken and takes on the consistency of a sauce. Stir in half and half and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  • Drain the asparagus and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Add the pasta and parmesan cheese to the sauce mixture and toss well to combine. Stir in the asparagus, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, ham to the pasta and heat through over medium heat. Stir in the basil and parsley just before serving.
  • Use remaining parmesan as a garnish, served on the side.


Calories: 491kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 37mg | Sodium: 877mg | Potassium: 763mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1080IU | Vitamin C: 21.3mg | Calcium: 360mg | Iron: 3.1mg

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overhead shot of Vegetable primavera on a plate with a wine glass

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  1. Karen Bauer says:

    5 stars
    I haven’t made this YET, but will definitely. Probably tomorrow. I don’t have sun dried tomatoes so is subbing canned, diced okay? Any adjustments?

  2. 5 stars
    Thanks for this delicious and yummy recipe. A must try Dinner option for my family. Perfect and easy too.

  3. 5 stars
    i love this healthier pasta version. alfredo gets to be too much sometimes and this lighter lemony sauce is just the perfect substitute. honestly ill probably never go back to the heavy alfredo. well done.

  4. Beth Pierce says:

    5 stars
    Made this for dinner last night and had smiling faces all around the dinner table! Perfect meal for spring!

  5. 5 stars
    Gorgeous photos! This looks like something amazing and new to try! Thanks for the recipe!

  6. 5 stars
    I made similar pasta for our dinner last night and it was delicious! The creamy lemon butter sauce sounds so good -I will be trying it next time! 🙂

  7. 5 stars
    I could not believe how delicious this was!!! It was the first time I used a lemon zester, and the flavor was perfect!

    1. Marty, so glad you enjoyed this! Thanks for the feedback!

  8. 5 stars
    Somehow I missed this post (crazy busy 2 weeks). Definitely making this over the weekend. My mouth is watering. .

  9. 5 stars
    Another recipe that I will definitely be trying! Thanks for sharing!