At last, local asparagus is making an appearance at the market.
Each spring, whenever asparagus season starts, the first thing I make is this quick pasta inspired by something I had at Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley. It’s incredibly simple (think weeknight) yet deliciously satisfying.
When I ate the Chez Panisse Café version several years ago, I was instantly reminded of the amazing pastas served in Italy: tasty, nourishing, almost soulful—but surprisingly spare. No rich, greasy sauces. That’s because both Italian pastas and the folks at Chez Panisse are guided by the same principle: use good ingredients that are local and in season. It’s that easy.
Start by cutting the asparagus very thinly on the diagonal, leaving the tips whole. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Sauté some chopped shallot in a little butter or a mix of butter and olive oil and add the blanched asparagus. Season with salt and cook for a few minutes, just enough to soften the asparagus. Add a little heavy cream (use a light touch; the cream should just bind the ingredients but not overwhelm them), a bit of finely grated lemon zest, and a generous amount of pepper and season to taste with more salt. Toss with cooked penne or rigatoni, adding a bit of reserved pasta cooking water, if necessary, and enjoy with a little more pepper ground on top.