Asparagus is a natural starting point when trying to make a vegetarian pasta sauce. Don’t boil or steam the asparagus since the residual water will dilute the flavor. Grilling will add a bold and smoky characteristic, and broiling will also concentrate the flavors. But I always want a simpler method, one that allows for the easy introduction of other flavors. The answer is to quickly sauté the asparagus.
I normally cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and sauté them with other ingredients over high heat. The asparagus will caramelize just a bit, and the heat will also bring out the flavors of the other ingredients, such as onions, walnuts, garlic, and shallots. To finish off each dish, I try not to overpower the asparagus with too much of one bold ingredient. Instead, I want a good balance of salty, sweet, and sour ingredients that allows the asparagus flavor to prevail.
Campanelli with Asparagus, Basil, and Balsamic Glaze
Camppanelli is a frilly trumpet-shaped pasta that pairs nicely with this sauce. If you cannot find it, fusilli works well, too.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 pound campanelli
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears halved lengthwise if larger than 1/2 inch in diameter and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1 medium-large red onion halved and sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
- 2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until al dente. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
Meanwhile, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil in an 8-inch skillet over medium0high heat; reduce the heat to medium and simmer slowly until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, 15 to 20 minutes.
While the vinegar is reducing, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 120inch nonstick skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add the asparagus, onion, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir to combine. Cook, without stirring, until the asparagus begins to brown, about 1 minute, then stir and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 4 minutes longer.
Add the asparagus mixture, basil, lemon juice, 1/2 cup of the cheese, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately, drizzling 1 to 2 teaspoons of the balsamic glaze over each serving and passing the remaining cheese separately.