I believe that everyone has his or her own gauge of spring, and its impending promise. I think it’s safe to say that increasing daylight is a universal point of reference for spring. For many people, I think it also has something to do with baseball. Personally, I keep an eye on the produce section, and when asparagus is abundant, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Although asparagus is available year round, the in-season springtime asparagus sets itself apart. Its vivid green stalks are tender and slender, as opposed to woody and thick. Additionally, the price is quite agreeable during these early spring months (it was on sale for 99 cents a pound at the market this week).
Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables to roast. Looking for a simple and tasty side dish? Toss some asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let it mingle in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Last Tuesday night, this was a lovely accompaniment to a heaping helping of shrimp scampi and linguine. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, replace the olive oil with toasted sesame oil, the salt with soy sauce, and finish the asparagus off with a sprinkle of sesame seeds in the last couple of minutes of roasting. I felt like that flavor combination might clash with my scampi, but it is my first choice in most other circumstances.
As delicious as roasted asparagus is, the tender perfection of the springtime crop allows for a little more versatility. You can coax even the woodiest of stems into submission via roasting. The delicate, in-season asparagus is so lovely and tender, that all it requires is a quick sauté. So, I sliced some up, sautéed it in olive oil with garlic and soy sauce, tossed it with hot penne pasta, and garnished it with some freshly grated Parmesan. Perhaps soy sauce and Parmesan sound like unlikely friends, but let me assure you they get along quite well. Think about it: they are both essentially more complex versions of salt. And of course, asparagus and soy sauce are veritable soul mates. Essentially, this pasta is fresh, quick, and a little unexpected, without being off-putting. So take my advice, and go cook yourself up a plate of springtime.
Asparagus Penne Pasta (serves one)
2 tablespoons olive oil
8-10 tender stalks of asparagus, sliced thin (about ¼ inch) at an angle (see photos)
1 garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
BIG pinch hot pepper flakes
A couple of splashes of soy sauce (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ pound penne pasta
Garnish: freshly grated Parmesan, chopped fresh parsley
· Put a pot of water onto to boil for the pasta.
· Meanwhile, chop asparagus, garlic, and parsley.
· When the water is at a rolling boil, add the penne and cook according to directions on the package.
· Preheat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Then add asparagus, hot pepper flakes, pepper, and garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5-8 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.
· Add soy sauce to the asparagus, to taste.
· When the pasta is ready, add it directly to the pan of asparagus. Toss everything together and add more soy and pepper, if needed. You may want to save a bit of pasta water to add in case the pasta is dry.
· Plate the pasta, and finish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.