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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

Ingredients:

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.
Instructions:

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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RECIPE

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

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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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