Charred Asparagus Pasta

Charred Asparagus Pasta

Spring!

Asparagus is synonymous with spring and something you want to cook up as soon as you spot young shoots popping out of the ground. The flavor is bright, crisp, and as freshly green as spring itself.

There is nothing like an asparagus sandwich, soup, or pasta to enjoy the glories of one of springs earliest culinary delights.

Charred Asparagus Pasta with Flame Roasted Peppers, Herbs, and Lemon: serves 6

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 3
  • garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 1 ½ pounds/700g young asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 medium whole red bell peppers, flame roasted, peeled, seeded, and julienned
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 slices pancetta, chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh broad leaf parsley leaves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 12 oz/350g thin spaghetti (no 5)
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • chile oil (optional) 

Making a pasta dish is not unlike assembling pizza in that pre-preparation and gathering of components needed makes the final cooking, which is a succession of quick steps, nearly effortless.

Prepare ahead: Sauce Base, Charred Asparagus, Flame Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Chopped Herbs, Cooked Pasta, and Grated Parmegiano.

Sauce Base:

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • zest of 1 lemon

Using a vegetable peeler; cut strips of zest from top to bottom of 1 lemon. Remove any white pith with a very sharp knife. Peel and crush the garlic cloves. Place the stock, garlic, and zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the garlic is tender. Remove the garlic and zest and discard. Set the flavored sauce base aside to use later.

Zest the second lemon as described above, mince finely, and set aside.

Juice both lemons and set aside to add to the pasta later.

Charred Asparagus: A quick charring of the asparagus intensifies the flavor without losing the snappy texture of tender young stalks.

  • 1 ½ pounds/700g young asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons oil (grape seed or other)

Trim the asparagus by snapping off the woody bit at the bottom of the stalks. Choose a large skillet that will hold all the asparagus in a single layer. Heat the pan, add the oil, and heat the oil until nearly smoking. Add the asparagus in a single layer and char for 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Turn the asparagus and char an additional 1-to 1 1/2 minutes, or until the skin is lightly blistered. Remove promptly and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then slice the stalks into 1 inch pieces cut on the diagonal. Separate the tips from the stalks and set aside.

Flame Roasted Red Bell Peppers:

  • 3 small whole red bell peppers

Place the peppers on a rack directly over the flame of a gas stove or outdoor grill and flame roast all sides until blistered and slightly blackened. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with cling film and kitchen towel and set aside for 15-20 minutes. Then peel the skin off the peppers, slice in half lengthwise, and remove the stems, seeds, and pithy ribs. Slice the peppers into very thin strips lengthwise and set aside.

Chopped Herbs:

  • ¼ cup fresh broad leaf parsley, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup mint leaves, finely sliced.

Mix together and set aside.

Pasta:

  • 12 oz/350g spaghetti (no5)
  • water 
  • sea salt

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Final Assembly:

Place a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the pancetta and cook until the pancetta is very lightly colored and the fat has been rendered. Add the minced garlic and cook just until the garlic begins to color without browning. Add the sauce base and the charred asparagus stalks (reserving the tips to add later) and cook until the sauce is reduced by 1/3. Add the asparagus tips, red pepper strips, and chopped herbs and toss until combined.

Add the butter and swirl the pan until the butter is melted and emulsified into the sauce. Add 1/3 cup lemon juice and half of the grated Parmigiano and swirl into the sauce. Taste and add sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and additional lemon juice to your liking.

Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and toss to evenly glaze the pasta as it heats up. Add a little more stock if needed to thin the sauce slightly.

Serving: Plate individual portions and serve with the remaining grated Parmigiano and a dazzle of chile oil (optional, but adds a nice zing to the finished dish)

Note: Chile oil is easy to make at home! Fill a bottle with extra virgin olive oil and add 6 to 8 small dried red chilies and set aside for a week or longer, as with time the oil becomes more infused with the chile flavor.

 

 

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