Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spring Asparagus Pasta with Arugula Pesto


This is the season of asparagus and my first Spring in Québec. The temperature last week went up to as high as 21ºc and that was 2 weeks before April! The snow piles that have been sitting for months are now mostly gone. Normally at this time of year, Spring doesn’t arrive until mid to late April, but this year it is surprisingly early, as if the city is giving us a special welcome!

Well, I guess I have nothing to complain about. In fact, we were told by most of the locals that they do not like the snow at all. Since the winter is normally long here, people will find any excuse to stay out as soon as the  temperature reaches 10ºc or higher. As much as I love the snow, I have to confess that I can’t wait to see and smell the spring flowers, and certainly spring vegetables are one of my favorite things as well!

In New York, the outdoor farmer’s market would already be opened in March, but here, it’s usually opened in May, due to the cold weather. Thankfully, we have an indoor farmer’s market, Marché du Vieux Port, that’s open all year round.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I love the asparagus at this time of the year. They’re young and very thin, which is great for stir-frying, sautéing or grilling. The fat and juicier asparagus usually comes in later in of the season. If you prefer the thin ones like me, you have to try this recipe. I love the green of this dish; it’s springy, simple, flavorful and full of nutrients. I paired the asparagus with another spring vegetable – baby arugula. They are both low in calories and are packed with vitamins A and C.

Spring asparagus pasta with arugula pesto (makes 4-6 servings)

A:    4 C packed baby arugula leaves
        1 C packed basil
        2 T grated parmesan cheese
        1 T pine nuts
        1 clove of garlic
        1 t lemon juice
        1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
        1/4 t sea salt
        1 4 t black pepper

1 bunch of asparagus (if you prefer and can find the thin ones, it’s the best option)
Angel hair pasta (I prefer angel hair but feel free to use spaghetti or fettuccine)

B:    1 large handful of baby arugula leaves
grated Parmesan cheese
        sea salt and pepper
        lemon zest from one lemon

Extra virgin olive oil
C:    1/4 C roughly chopped basil leaves
        6 thin pieces of prosciutto

1. Blend  all ingredients A in a blender until everything is finely chopped and blended. Voila!

2. Heat a pot of water. Cut off the rough woody ends of the asparagus and clean well. Line them up on the cutting board and cut them into 3 segments.

3. Put some kosher salt in boiling water and blanch the asparagus for about 2-3 minutes, depending on how thick the stalks are. Prepare some ice water in a large bowl and immediately transfer the cooked asparagus to the ice water after removing it from the hot water to stop the cooking.*  Drain the asparagus and set them aside.

4. Heat a large pot of water. When the water is boiling, add some kosher salt and cook your pasta according to the instructions on the package. Be sure to save about 1/2 C of pasta liquid.

5. While cooking your pasta, preheat the oven to 425°F or 215°C. Place all the prosciutto pieces on a tray lined with parchment paper. Don’t overlap them. Bake for about 7 minutes or until golden and crispy but not burned. Be sure to keep your eyes on it after 5 minutes as it can burn very fast!

6. Mix the cooked pasta with the arugula pesto sauce and some of the saved pasta water. If it seems too thick, feel free to add more of the pasta water. Don’t be afraid if it seems a bit wet in the beginning. The pasta does absorb a lot of liquid if you give it a minute. Add ingredients B and place each portion on individual plates or bowls. Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and garnish with C.

*By the way, this is called “shocking” the asparagus.

*if the asparagus is thick, you might want to peel the bottom part a little bit so it’ll be tender

*Be careful not to blanch the asparagus for too long, or it’ll lose its bright green color, crunchiness and sweetness.

*can omit prosciutto if vegetarian

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