Spring is a special time of year. There’s nothing that lifts a body’s spirits quite like the green shoots and gentle sun of spring. And then there’s the wonderful produce that starts to appear in our markets—tiny peas, artichokes, slender green asparagus, fava beans in their hefty pods, plump strawberries… Even in this age when you can get just about anything in any season, it still warms my heart. There is nothing like the taste of those first tender asparagus that appear in the spring. Between them and artichokes, I’d be hard pressed to say which I like better.
Asparagus makes for a great antipasto or second dish, but it can also serve as a delicious condimento for risotto or, even better in my opinion, pasta. We’ve already seen how to make asparagus lasagna—a fabulous if effortful dish. Here’s a quicker way to enjoy asparagus and pasta, something you can whip up in no more than 30 minutes tops (assuming you’re using store-bought pasta). For this dish, and most others, I prefer the thin ‘pencil’ asparagus. They don’t need peeling and have a more delicate flavor than their thicker cousins, but you can make this dish with either variety.
For 4-6 servings
- Fresh egg pasta made with 4 eggs, cut into tagliatelle or 4 ‘nests’ of store-bought tagliatelle
For the sauce:
- 2 bunches of fresh asparagus
- 250 ml (1 cup) of heavy cream
- 50g (2 oz) butter
- 2 shallots (optional)
Grated parmigiano cheese
If using fresh egg pasta, roll it out very thin and cut it using the fettuccine/tagliatelle attachment of your pasta machine.
Trim and (if using fat asparagus, peel) your asparagus spears. Boil the asparagus in well-salted water until it is perfectly tender (not crisp-tender), about 5 minutes for thin asparagus, perhaps 7 for the thicker variety. (Test for doneness with a paring knife.) Cut off the tips and reserve, putting the tipless spears into a food processor with the heavy cream and a pinch of salt. Process until you have a perfectly smooth purée.
In a wide skillet, melt the butter. If using the shallots, sauté them gently for a minute or two. Add the asparagus purée and let it simmer for just a few minutes, until it has warmed and slightly reduced. Turn off the heat.
Now boil your pasta in well-salted water until al dente. For freshly made egg pasta, just drop it the boiling water and let it come back to the boil. If your pasta has been rolled really thin, that should be enough. If not, you can let it go for a minute or two longer, no more. If using store-bought tagliatelle, follow the instructions on the box.
While the pasta is cooking, sauté the asparagus tips with a nut of butter, just long enough for them to absorb the butter and warm up. Do not let them brown.
When done, drain and transfer the pasta to the skillet, along with a small ladleful of the pasta water, and mix it well with the asparagus purée over low heat. Let the pasta absorb the purée until it is well coated but slight quite slithery. You can add more water if things feel ‘sticky’.
Serve with the sautéed tips on top, either in individual warmed plates or in a communal bowl for the table, with grated parmigiano on the side for those who like it.
Here’s a tip for some extra flavor: Boil your pasta in the water you used for the asparagus.
The asparagus purée sauce is also very nice with short, stubby pastas like penne or, better yet, its little sisters, pennette.
Another version of this dish has you sauté chopped asparagus in butter, tossed then with the pasta and grated parmigiano. It’s also wonderful, a bit lighter and even easier than this recipe. But the taste of puréed asparagus in a butter and cream reduction is something you really should try at least once. Trust me on this one..