Saturday, March 15, 2014

Amplifying asparagus for pasta

I picked up a really nice looking bunch of fresh asparagus today, and it crossed my mind to use it in a pasta dinner.  But how?   Spring is approaching, finally - it was a beautiful day, and everyone around here is ignoring the snow in tomorrow night's forecast, so I wanted to do something to kick up and, well, amplify that springlike asparagus flavor without wasting a bit of it.

Here's the basic idea:

First, I broke off the woody ends of the stalks, but rather than discarding them, I simmered them for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water to extract their asparagus flavor.  Then I lifted them out with a slotted spoon and tossed them in the compost.

Second, I cut off and reserved the tips, and cut the remaining edible stalk into short (1-inch) lenghts and simmered them gently in the broth from Step One for 5-6 minutes, just until they were crisp tender.   I blended them into a puree, using just enough of the asparagus water to liquefy; to this blend I also added about 1 cup deeply browned onions plus salt and black pepper to taste.  I also cooked the tips very briefly - about 2 minutes in the microwave - in a small amount of water.

Third, I used the remaining asparagus water, plus additional salted water, to cook enough spaghetti for two.  While the pasta was simmering, I peeled and minced enough zest from a lemon to make about 1/2 tablespoon, and grated about 1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese.

When the spaghetti was done - still rather al dente - I drained it and mixed it in to the veggie puree, adding the reserved lemon zest and about half of the grated cheese and mixing it all together until the strands were well coated.  Divided the sauces spaghetti between two warmed bowls, scattered on the remaining grated cheese, and arranged the crisp-tender asparagus spears on top.

It would have been a good match with just about any Sauvignon Blanc; it was spectacular with a dry white from the French Pyrenees, Jean-Marc LaFage 2012 "Cote Est" Cotes Catalanes Grenache-Chardonnay-Marsanne.