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    Sunday, April 12, 2009
    In Praise of Asparagus

    'Tis the season for asparagus, falalalala, la la la la...

    Forgive my transports. I love asparagus enough that I think carols should be written in its honor, and this is the high season for it. Bonus: it's on sale! Most supermarkets have asparagus at bargain prices this time of year.

    Let's say you hit a sale or two and are stocked full of asparagus, and are looking to do something with it besides just boiling and eating it. (Though there is nothing wrong with that.) I would recommend the following recipe, which I got off the Simply Recipes website - an excellent reference site, BTW. If you are lucky and also manage to get ricotta on sale, you have an inexpensive dinner for four or five people. If you aren't feeding four or five, leftovers are good for lunch the next day.

    1 1/4 lb thick asparagus, woody ends trimmed
    1 lb penne pasta
    1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed
    15 oz ricotta cheese
    2 T. olive oil
    2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    salt, pepper

    Bring a 5-qt pot of water to the boil (you will use same water for cooking both the asparagus and the pasta). Add salt. Have an ice bath ready. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook about four minutes, till tender but firm. Remove asparagus and plunge into cold water to stop cooking. (I have a pot with a metal insert which makes this much easier: just pull out the metal insert and hold over the pot to drain. Tongs, however, are fine.) Drain the cooled asparagus and cut on the bias into 1/8 inch slices, leaving tips intact.

    Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and throw in the pasta (you can use a little less than a pound, if you wish).

    While pasta is cooking take the garlic and rub it all over the inside of your serving bowl; discard the garlic. Add the ricotta, olive oil and 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water to serving bowl and stir. Drain pasta when done (but reserve some extra cooking water). Add penne to the cheese mixture and fold in the asparagus and half of the Parmesan. Season with salt, pepper (white pepper is nice, if you have it) and several dashes of ground nutmeg. If too thick, add some of reserved pasta water.

    Serve pasta with remaining Parmesan on side to sprinkle over. Serves 4 to 8, depending on whether it is a first course or the main course. You can add a little zested lemon peel if you'd like.




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