gentle spring pasta

Tonight Robert & Laureen came over for dinner. I didn't have a ton of prep time, but Carrie had planted the idea of "asparagus and shiitake mushrooms" in my head earlier in the day, and i spent a bit of my walk working up an idea for an entrée for the evening. The dinner worked well, i think - Campari and soda with olives to start; the pasta below as an entrée, a salad, and then some apple-caramel tarts for dessert. I think this pasta would be good with any sort of spring veggies - i was especially pleased that it wasn't too heavy at service.

pancetta (sliced thickly, like bacon)
shiitake mushrooms
Navarro Chardonna Verjus (any other white wine verjus would be fine; if you can't find verjus, use a bit of vinegar with some white wine to sub in.)
a few capers
fresh thyme
fresh parmesan

Fry the pancetta until it's crisp. Remove to a paper towel; reserve the pancetta fat. (I poured off half of it, and left the rest in the pan to cool for the next step. If you're prepping a sweet apple tart on the other counter, make sure to keep very clean between handling the bacon and the tart crust. ;) )

Snap the thick ends of the asparagus; slice the rest on the bias to about the length of a penne. Clean, stem, and thickly slice the mushrooms. Pull the thyme leaves from their stems.

Put on a pot of water to boil.

Once the pan is coolish, turn it back up to medium, toss a small amount of butter in on top of some of the pancetta grease, and sautée the shiitakes until they are crispy around the edges, but still soft inside. Let them give up about half of the water.

Let the pan cool a bit, add the rest of the pancetta fat, a touch of butter, and when it's medium-hot, add the asparagus. Keep shaking the pan. After a minute or two (you want it to brown up a bit, but it won't be tender at all yet) throw in some verjus (maybe a third of a cup for a whole bundle of asparagus?) and put a lid on the pan for a minute or two to let it steam. Remove the asparagus and reserve the deglazing liquid.

When you have a moment, rough-chop your pancetta.

Add your penne to the pot when it's boiling; cook it 'till al dente.

Find your largest skillet. Brown some butter. Toss in they thyme (it will pop), and then the capers. Stir it about. Throw in the reserved deglazing liquid, a little more verjus, and a little wine. Salt. Pepper. Let this come to a simmer, reduce heat to low.

When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it straight into the skillet. Turn up the heat; add a little more butter, salt and pepper. Toss in the asparagus and pancetta. Turn to heat and coat. Put the pasta on a large plate; grate fresh parmesan generously over the top. Mound a handful of your shiitaakes in the middle. Serve.

Posted by shock on March 02, 2003 | TrackBack
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