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A Springtime Treat – Wholewheat Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon

Not often, but sometimes, I’m a bit of an impulse-shopper when it comes to food. I’m very much attracted to bright, colorful displays and piles of fresh produce. This can be really helpful when trying to eat seasonally and to try to get more fruit and veg into my diet.

Springtime is when asparagus come into season. My inner clock just knows when the time is right to seek out these green gems. Truly fresh asparagus are an amazing treat. I know that it seems as though they are available year-round, but the spring is their real, natural season around here.

Compare the prices for what you might buy in December versus April-May. You’ll also feel the difference in your pocketbook when they are at their freshest. Their taste is another measure, as well. The season is short, there’s just a few weeks when they are at their peak, so you’ll have to act quickly to get them at their best. Farmers’ markets are the best place to get them.

The tips should have tightly closed buds and the ends should not look woody (kind of stringy and wrinkled). Trimming them, as the recipe below instructs, will get rid of the less-edible part and get them ready for cooking.

Each spring, I have to pace myself not to gorge on as many asparagus as I can find. My favorites are the pencil-thin variety. It took me until I was an adult to really appreciate their flavor. I find that lemon helps to bring out the best in them – this isn’t just a ploy to finish using up the ones that I bought for a post a few weeks ago – a mustard-lemon vinaigrette would also work well.

Pairing fresh asparagus with lemon, pine nuts and parmesan, is a nice, light lunch or supper. You’ll probably not make it for the kids, with their finicky tastebuds, so how about setting aside time to have an “adults only” meal, for a change.


Whole-Wheat Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon

Prep time: 30 minutes or so
Serves: 2 adults (did you really think the kids would eat asparagus?)

Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon Pine nuts (pignoli), toasted
10-12 Asparagus spears (big or small), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Lemon zest and lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
Whole wheat spaghetti or spaghettini
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Assembly:
Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Centigrade, Gas Mark 4). Put the pine nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. (It is best to check them after 10 minutes to make sure that they haven’t burned.)

Put two saucepans of water on the stove to boil (one large, one small). One is for the pasta and one is to cook the asparagus. While waiting, prepare the asparagus. Take each spear and snap off the end at the point where it starts to bend. This will trim off the woody part. Chop into 1-inch-sized pieces.

Zest the lemon and extract 1 Tablespoon of the juice. Set aside in a small bowl. Grate parmesan cheese and set aside in separate bowl.

When the first pan of water (small) has started to boil, toss in the asparagus to blanche* them. After 5 minutes, pierce a fat piece of asparagus with a fork. The fork should still go through it easily but with some resistance.

Remove pan from the heat immediately, drain, and run cold water over the asparagus. This will stop them from cooking any further and getting too mushy. The asparagus should be a bright green color. Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain water, leaving about 1 teaspoon of the liquid, and return pasta to the cooking pan. Drizzle with the reserved lemon juice and with 1 teaspoon of the best extra virgin olive oil that you have.

Toss to coat all the strands of pasta. Add parmesan cheese and reserved water and blend well with the pasta.

Quickly divide the pasta into two portions. Add the asparagus and lemon zest. Dust with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top. Serve immediately.

*Kitchen Witch Tip:
Blanch = to cook quickly for a few minutes in boiling water, so as to keep natural color or to allow for easier peeling of the skins (as with tomatoes).

Buon appetito!