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Recipes: Pasta dishes with fresh spring asparagus

Three satisfying meals that make the most of a favorite seasonal vegetable.

Pasta with asparagus, leeks, and bacon.
PHOTO BY ANTHONY TIEULI; FOOD STYLING BY SHEILA JARNES/ENNIS INC.
Pasta with asparagus, leeks, and bacon.

Asparagus is the poster child for spring vegetables, marking the season in light side dishes, salads, and main courses — in this case, pasta.

Blanching and shocking the asparagus is an extra step, but it’s worth the trouble, in my view, because the process preserves the vibrant green color and allows maximum control over tenderness.

Pasta With Asparagus, Leeks, and Bacon

Makes about 8 cups

In these recipes, blanch, shock, and dry the asparagus first, then cook the pasta in the boiling water while preparing the sauce.

6slices bacon, cut into
½-inch pieces
2medium leeks (about 1 pound), white and light green parts halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 3½ cups)
Salt and pepper
tablespoons pressed or grated garlic (about 7 medium cloves)
8ounces short, stubby, or tubular pasta, cooked in salted boiling water until barely al dente and 1¼ cups cooking water reserved separately
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾cup finely grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
1pound medium-thin asparagus, tough ends removed, blanched in boiling salted water until barely tender, about 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, drained, and dried
6medium scallions, thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)
½cup chopped fresh parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

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In a Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until crisp; drain on paper towels and set aside. Pour all but 1½ tablespoons fat from the pot and return it to medium heat. Add the leeks and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds longer. Add ¾ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the pasta, lemon juice, Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and toss to combine well. Off heat, cover the pot and rest, tossing frequently, for about 3 minutes, adding the asparagus halfway through. Add the scallions, reserved bacon, and most of the parsley and toss to combine. Adjust the consistency with more cooking water and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer to a large, warm serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining parsley, and serve at once.

Pasta With Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Garlicky Bread Crumbs

Makes about 8 cups

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Crumbs from bread that contains a sweetener may toast more quickly, so keep an eye on them.

¼cup extra-virgin olive oil
tablespoons pressed or grated garlic (about 7 medium cloves)
Salt and pepper
1cup fresh bread crumbs
1medium onion, finely chopped
8ounces short, stubby, or tubular pasta, cooked in salted boiling water until barely al dente and 1¼ cups cooking water reserved separately
1pound medium-thin asparagus, tough ends removed, blanched in boiling salted water until barely tender, about 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, drained, and dried
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1cup crumbled fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
½cup chopped fresh parsley

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, mix 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1½ teaspoons of garlic and cook, stirring, until mixture is fragrant and garlic just begins to sizzle, about 1½ minutes. Add the bread crumbs, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and cook, stirring constantly, until light brown and toasted, about 7 minutes. Scrape the toasted crumbs into a bowl and set aside.

Anthony Tieuli
Tip: To avoid having to boil water twice in these recipes (once to blanch the asparagus and again to cook the pasta), I use the same water for both operations. That necessitates scooping the asparagus out rather than emptying the pot into a colander. The perfect tool is a large wire spider skimmer, designed to let you lift food easily out of a pot. Once found primarily in Asian kitchens, they’re now common and widely available.

Wipe out the pot, return it to medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds longer. Add ¾ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the pasta and pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Off heat, cover the pot and rest, tossing frequently, for 3 minutes, adding the asparagus, lemon juice, and goat cheese halfway through. Add most of the parsley and toss to combine. Adjust the consistency with more cooking water and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Transfer to a large, warm serving bowl, sprinkle with about half of the bread crumbs and the remaining parsley, and serve at once, passing the remaining bread crumbs at the table.

Pasta With Asparagus, Shrimp, and Feta

Makes about 12 cups

1pound extra-large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), shelled and deveined
tablespoons juice plus 1½ teaspoons finely grated zest from 1 lemon
1tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)
Salt and ground black pepper
3tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1medium shallot, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
¼teaspoon red pepper flakes
8ounces short, stubby, or tubular pasta, cooked in salted boiling water until barely al dente and 1¼ cups cooking water reserved separately
cups crumbled feta
1pound medium-thin asparagus, tough ends removed, blanched in boiling salted water until barely tender, about 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, drained, and dried
½cup chopped fresh mint

In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp, 1½ teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon garlic, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and ground black pepper and set aside to marinate. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the shallot and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and remaining 2 teaspoons garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add ¾ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and any accumulated liquid and cook, stirring, until shrimp are just barely firm, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pasta, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and remaining 1 tablespoon juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Off heat, cover the pot and rest, tossing frequently, for about 3 minutes, adding the feta and asparagus halfway through (the shrimp will finish cooking gently during this time). Add most of the mint and toss to combine. Adjust the consistency with more cooking water and adjust seasoning with salt and ground black pepper if necessary. Transfer to a large, warm serving bowl, sprinkle with the remaining mint, and serve at once.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.