Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Asparagus Series - Episode Four: Two Pasta Recipes

Help! We are being overrun by plants!

Yes, that’s what my living room looks like right now. Our building is having work done on all the balconies, and so we have been instructed to clear our balcony out. And this was the only place we could store all our herbs. I feel like I’m writing in a greenhouse. Hopefully, we’ll find a new home for the plants soon, because the lack of sunlight can’t be good for them.

Well, the living room may be a mess, but the kitchen, while cluttered, is still completely functional. Which means I still have much to share with you all. So, first things first, what do you say we finish our Asparagus Series? And the final dish (or rather, dishes) will be: pasta!

Originally, I only had one pasta recipe to share: lemon penne with asparagus, which we made a while ago. But, to my surprise, asparagus have made a comeback in the market stalls this week. They are more slender than the ones we had in the spring, but they are just as delicious. So last night, Laurent (who had decided it was his night to cook) made me a shrimp and asparagus pasta dish.

Recipe no 1: Lemon Pasta with Asparagus

Both are very simple recipes, which can of course be modified ad infinitam. In fact, they are themselves variations. The first is taken from Josée di Stasio’s acclaimed Pasta Et Cetera, with the only difference being that she makes it with spaghetti – which we actually did try once, and found that the lemon sauce didn’t adhere to the pasta as much as we would have liked (although, to be completely honest, we had diluted it too much). Josée di Stasio describes this recipe as “something to make when there’s nothing in the fridge,” and that’s about right – sure, it’s better if you have asparagus or mushrooms around, but if worst comes to worst, lemon and parmesan are all you need.

The second recipe is courtesy of another Montrealer, Stefano Faita and his wonderful cookbook Entre Cuisine et Quincaillerie, which translates are “Between Cooking and Hardware.” Despite the title, the recipes don’t require any special equipment, but the book itself is full of anecdotes and useful tips. I’ve borrowed from it a lot, and very few of these Italian-inspired recipes have ever let me down.

Recipe no 2: Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus

The original recipe called for flambéing the shrimp and asparagus with brandy, but we decided not to go there. For one thing, we’ve never flambéed anything yet. And secondly, I’m still reeling from an experience where an otherwise perfectly tasty shrimp pâté was completely ruined by the fact that the shrimp had been marinated in brandy: it was seriously the only thing to have ever come out of my kitchen that I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than a few bites of. I’m all for incorporating spirits into desserts and cakes, but ever since that day I’ve been a little wary of adding them to savoury dishes. So, for this recipe, we simply deglazed the pan with white wine, and that was that. And we couldn’t find fresh marjoram, so we used dried. Fresh Italian parsley would also have been good.

So, there you go: two very different, but equally flavourful asparagus pasta recipes. And with that, I am officially ending the Asparagus Series, and I promise the next post will be all about sweetness. Stay tuned!

Lemon and Asparagus Pasta
Slightly adapted from Pasta Et Cetera: À la di Stasio

Serves 2

One bunch of asparagus
The zest and juice of 2 lemons
250g (1/2 pound) short pasta
120 ml (1/2 cup) grated parmesan
3 tbsp olive oil
A handful of fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper

Combine the lemon juice and zest, parmesan and oil in a large bowl. Set aside.

Trim the asparagus. Cut them into 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces, separating the stems from the spears. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (you will be using the same water to boil your pasta). Boil the asparagus stems for 2-3 minutes, then add the spears and boil for an extra 1-2 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer, run under cold water and reserve.

Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the box. One minute before the end of the cooking process, add the asparagus to the pot, so as to reheat them. Drain the pasta and vegetables, making sure to reserve about 120ml (1/2 cup) of the cooking liquid.

Put the pasta, asparagus and cooking liquid in the bowl with the lemon and parmesan mixture. Toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh basil.

Pasta with Shrimp and Asparagus
Adapted from Entre Cuisine et Quincaillerie

Serves 2

One bunch of asparagus
250g (1/2 pound) short pasta (such as penne or farfalle)
250g (1/2 pound) raw medium shrimp, deveined and shelled
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
120ml (1/2 cup) white wine
1 tbsp fresh marjoram, chopped (can be replaced with flat-leaf parsley)
240ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
Grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

Trim the asparagus. Cut them into 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces, separating the stems from the spears. Boil the asparagus stems in salted water for 3 minutes, then add the spears and boil for an extra 2 minutes. Drain the asparagus, run under cold water and reserve.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta following the instructions on the box.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook the shallots until slightly translucent, then add the shrimp and asparagus. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the white wine and continue cooking until mostly evaporated.

Season with herbs, salt and pepper. Add the cream and continue cooking, stirring often, until thickened.

Drain your pasta and add it to the pan. Toss to combine ingredients and coat the pasta with cream, and sprinkle with parmesan.


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  2. Love the sound of lemon and asparagus =D. Both dishes look delicious!

  3. Both dishes look great. I especially like the second one with prawns. Yum!

  4. I love pasta with anything... I hope you can find a home for those plants soon... We recently had three pots of herbs in our kitchen and as it turns out one of them had tiny little caterpillars in them, who now all have turned into tiny little moths!! Pfftt... they are so small I cannot find the little cocoons they must have crept out of. I keep catching little moths every day and putting them outside. How many can one plant produce?? So... just be sure your plants are animalfree..:)

  5. Both of your pasta dishes look so delicious!! I hope they finish your renovations soon, so you'll have more space in your living room. :)

  6. Super ton dossier sur les asperges! C'est un de mes légumes favoris, je les aime de toutes les couleurs et à toutes les sauces. N'hésite surtout pas à flamber ta recette, je te jure que ce sera délicieux. Flamber c'est très différent de mariner. De plus, les fruits de mer ont intérêts à ne faire qu'un court séjour dans la marinade, car on ne veut pas qu'ils "cuisent" pour ne pas affecter leurs textures.
    Un bon flambage ne dure que quelques secondes (en réalité seulement le temps que l'alcool brûle) et ça donne une saveur incomparable au plat!
    J'espère que tes belles fines herbes ont trouvés un refuge, car il serait bien dommage de les perdre. C'est tellement délicieux des fines herbes fraîches!
    Bonne journée à toi!