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One-pot pasta dish features spring asparagus

Recipe: No-cook sauce includes ricotta and lemon

blue plate with pasta in a white sauce
This pasta recipe goes together quickly and makes a spectacular lunch dish.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)

A pile of asparagus spears
That's a pound of spring right there, pre-trimming.

Go ahead, get more asparagus. It's the height of the season and there are plenty of ways to cook it.

This dish features asparagus that's on the thinner side, because it cooks quickly in the same water later used for the pasta. The sauce doesn't cook at all -- how easy is that?

I blended the sauce in my food processor, but you can use an immersion blender or even a hand mixer to get it nice and smooth. Versions of ricotta and pasta are all over the place, but this one -- adapted freely from a New York Times version -- has a nice bite, with red pepper flakes and lemon cutting through the richness of the sauce. Be sure to use whole-milk ricotta, however, for the best texture.

Not a fan of asparagus? Fresh peas would work just as well, and be equally spring-like.

Pasta with asparagus, ricotta and lemon

Serves 4


3/4 to 1 pound skinny spears of asparagus (or 1 cup of peas)

Kosher salt

1 pound dried short pasta, such as penne, gemelli or farfalle

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)

Freshly ground black pepper

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Asparagus pieces in water
The skinny asparagus pieces cook quickly.

Bring a large pot (at least 4-quart size) of water to boil. Trim the asparagus spear ends, then cut the spears into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Add the asparagus to the water and cook just until tender -- this will go quickly, so don't walk away.

Lift the asparagus out of the water with tongs or a slotted spoon and set it in a colander to dry a bit, then put the asparagus in a bowl and set aside. Don't dump the water from the pot! Bring it back to a boil and add a touch of salt, then add the pasta. Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente. Save 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.

Ricotta sauce in a food processor
The sauce is blended in a food processor.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce: In a food processor (or with another method noted above) blend together the ricotta, 1 cup of the Parmesan, the lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Blend in 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

When the pasta is cooked and draining, pour the sauce into the still-warm pot. Add the pasta, stirring gently to blend, and the cooked asparagus pieces. Add a bit more pasta water as needed.

Serve immediately, topped with more Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

More asparagus recipes on our blog :

Herbed ricotta, asparagus and phyllo tart

Baked asparagus a la Sacramento

Fava and asparagus salad

Roasted asparagus with crispy leeks and capers


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A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Oct. 2

Plan to make the most of the mild weather in your garden.

* October is the best month to plant trees and shrubs.

* October also is the best time to plant perennials in our area. Add a little well-aged compost and bone meal to planting holes or beds, but hold off on other fertilizers until spring. Keep the transplants well-watered (but not wet) for the first month as they become settled.

* Now is the time to plant seeds for many flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy, portulaca, sweet pea and stock.

* Plant seeds for radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

* Reseed and feed the lawn. Work on bare spots.

* Dig up corms and tubers of gladioluses, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

* Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

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