I was recently feasting on an asparagus and pea shoot salad with Canuck as I proclaimed, “I really think Spring is my favorite food season. I will be so sad when it’s over.” He quickly reminded me of the existence of tomatoes, and then I felt better. Still, I will deeply miss the abundance of perfect asparagus that I have been enjoying nearly every day for the past several weeks. Some of my favorite recent renditions of asparagus include: a delicious Fatted Calf sandwich with prosciutto, ricotta and lemon oil; fired up over a charcoal grill with sea salt and cracked pepper; blanched and served with a simple lemon aioli; and shaved with Parmigiano, Meyer lemon, poached egg and crispy lonza (thanks Oenotri for offering some fresh veggies on your brunch menu).
But my favorite asparagus-themed meal that I have come across this Spring is (of course) a Bon Appetit recipe that my mother turned me onto. I’ve had it once at the hands of my mother and have now made it twice for friends with a couple slight tweaks that I think improve on the recipe.
Pasta with Peas, Asparagus, Escarole and Speck (serves 6 to 8)
- 2 TB unsalted butter
- 2 TB extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
- ½ lb spring onions; white parts cut into ¼-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into ½-inch-thick slices
- 2 TB minced shallot
- Coarse kosher salt
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ pounds thick asparagus, cut crosswise into ¾-inch pieces
- 2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 2 pounds peas in pods) or 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
- 1 pound campanelle or gemelli pasta (I prefer the locally made Baia pasta)
- 1 head of escarole, cored, leaves cut into ¾-inch-wide slices
- 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano plus additional for serving
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 4 ounces thinly sliced speck, cut crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips
The original recipe calls for butter lettuce, but I think escarole has more flavor and texture. It also calls for prosciutto – which is delicious and I encourage you to use it if you can’t find speck – but speck offers a bit of smokiness to the dish that compliments the flavors nicely (credit to Space Cadet for the suggestion).
Melt the butter with 2 TB of oil in heavy large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onions and shallot and sprinkle with coarse salt and cracked pepper. Sauté until tender (do not brown), about 8 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; set aside.
Meanwhile, reheat onion mixture. Add drained asparagus and peas and stir until heated through. Then add pasta, 1 cup Pecorino Romano, escarole and parsley. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by the ¼ cup if dry. Once the pasta has reached your desired consistency, add the speck and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.