PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS LEMON SAUCE
The first farmers market asparagus begs to be savored simply grilled, steamed or roasted. For a change-up, you might try this unusual and very good dish dressed in the colors of spring. Just five ingredients come together to make a vegetarian entree everyone will applaud. The cooking water does triple duty, cooking first the stems, then the tips and finally the pasta. Regular egg pasta penne, rather than a whole-wheat variety, makes a better textured dish.
1 pound asparagus
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus more for garnish
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound penne or other short pasta
1⁄2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Strips of lemon zest, optional
Snap the tough butt ends off the asparagus, or peel to the tender core. Cut the stems on an angle into 1-inch pieces. Reserve the asparagus tips.
Bring 5 to 6 quarts water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt, and cook the asparagus stems until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted soon to a colander (reserving the cooking water in the pot) and rinse under cold water. Drain the asparagus well and transfer to a food processor or blender.
Cook the asparagus tips in the same boiling water until just tender, barely 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the colander, again reserving the boiling water in the pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain and blot the tips on a paper towel.
Puree the asparagus stems with the lemon zest, oil and 1⁄2 cup of the asparagus cooking water. Transfer to a large saucepan or skillet.
Now cook the pasta in the boiling asparagus cooking water until it is about 3⁄4 of the way done and still offers some resistance. Reserve 2 cups of cooking water and, finally, drain the pasta.
Add the pasta and 1⁄2 cup of the reserved water to the asparagus sauce and cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente and the sauce coats the pasta. Add about 1⁄4 cup more cooking water until the sauce again coats the pasta but is a little loose. The cheese will thicken it slightly.
Gently stir in the reserved asparagus tips, the cheese and a generous amount of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring until the cheese is melted. Serve right away in warm bowls.
Garnish, if you like, with a little freshly grated lemon zest and a few strips of lemon zest. Pass cheese. Makes 4 servings, depending on the menu.
— “Red, White and Greens: The Italian Way With Vegetables” By Faith Willinger (Morrow, 1996)
Marlene Parrish: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-481-1620