This lively spring asparagus pasta is defined by a contrast in texture
One of the pillars of good cooking is ensuring that every dish has ample textural contrast, an element as important as flavor. Once you’ve found the balance between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and salty, it’s crucial to consider creamy, crispy, chewy, and more.
But incorporating different textures doesn’t necessarily require additional ingredients. As in this lively spring pasta dish inspired by the one at the River Cafe in London, the solution can be as simple as cooking asparagus in two batches.
In this recipe from our book “Tuesday Nights Mediterranean”, which offers dishes from the region suitable for weeknights, the asparagus is finely chopped in a food processor. Half is sautéed until tender and the other half is added later in the cooking to preserve its crispy texture. One vegetable, two textures.
A cup of cream and a portion of the starchy cooking water binds the asparagus into a silky sauce just thick enough to coat the chewy al dente pasta.
Lemon zest and a drizzle of lemon juice at the table brighten up the flavors. And a quarter cup of grated Parmesan gives a savory nuttiness that binds the flavors together.
Creamy asparagus pasta
Start to finish: 25 minutes Servings: 4
2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces Kosher salt and ground black pepper 8 ounces large, flat pasta, such as tagliatelle or fettuccine 1 tablespoon salted butter 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 medium shallots, halved and thinly sliced 1 cup heavy cream ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving
In a food processor, pulse the asparagus until finely chopped, about 15 pulses. Measure 1½ cups of chopped asparagus and set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring 4 liters of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain.
Meanwhile, in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic, shallots and ½ tsp salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the asparagus to the food processor and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add cream and reserved 1½ cups of asparagus, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until a spoon pulled through the mixture leaves a 2 second streak, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Add the drained pasta and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water to the asparagus and cream mixture and set the pan over medium heat. Stir, adding cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed, until the sauce is silky and clings to the pasta. Stir in the lemon zest, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with Parmesan and extra lemon wedges.