I discovered this simple recipe last year at Tastecamp, when David Page, of Shinn Vineyards, in Long Island, made it for a group of bloggers attending this blogger meeting. Simple, delicious. I must have gone back for three servings. It was just a great balance of flavors – and it went pretty well with the couple of sauvignon blancs from Macari Vineyards and Jamesport Vineyards that were being served with the meal – along with a barrel sample of the wonderful 2007 Shinn Cabernet Franc, a truly remarkable cuvée.
Anyhow, the recipe was so simple that I managed to adapt it very easily. I’ve prepared it twice over the last year, with little variations each time. The kids and adults around the table always make it disappear in a flash.
First, steam the asparagus until they are still bright green and just al dente. Cool them down immediately in very cold water (adding ice cubes helps), leave them for a few minutes and drain them when they are cool to the touch.
Get some water boiling for the pasta while you finely chop a white onion, a couple of shallots or a few spring onions. David Page uses spring onion, I didn’t have it on hand when I made the recipe, and onions or shallots did just as well. Zest a lemon, and once the lemon is zested, cut it in half get the juice out of it. (And do keep the juice, you’ll need it later…)
This would also be a good time to grate some parmesan, if using freshly grated cheese. (You really should.)
Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and cook the onions or shallots a few minutes over medium heat, until they soften and become translucent. If using spring onion, just toss it for a minute to coat it with oil and warm it.
Cut the asparagus into inch lengths, and toss them in with the onion/shallot/spring onion. Toss well, but gently. Add salt, pepper and the lemon zest. Let it warm up for a few minutes on low heat – say, for as long as it takes to cook the penne in the water you got boiling.
The last time I made the recipe, I added tiny little cubes of dry-cured ham to the onions and asparagus, as well. Added a nice little touch. Could you add bacon, too? Maybe, but it would change the flavor profile more significantly. Forgo the salt, if you use either.
When the pasta is ready, add the lemon juice to the onions and asparagus, stir briefly, then add the mixture to the pasta, with an extra tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, toss, add the parmesan cheese gradually, as you toss the pasta.
You’re done. Serve right away.
A pound of asparagus and a pound of penne, one lemon, one small onion and about 3-4 ounces (70-100 grams) of parmesan will serve about four people for dinner. With big appetites (or lunches for the next day), doubling the quantities is a good idea. It’s easy to reheat and it’s not bad cold, either.
Hot or cold, it’s a great summer dish, and it can easily fit with the easy going sunset mood in this video by The Hoof & The Heel, a song I basically have been looping on the computer for a few days. Enjoy!