Cooking with Thyme: Pasta with Asparagus and Herbs

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A salad of marinated feta cheese and olives and a pasta laced with asparagus, mushrooms, and all manner of good things will be perfect for your next family dinner.

I used to make this versatile recipe with a cream base, but now I substitute stock and wine for a delicious dish that is much lower in fat and just as tasty. You may substitute whatever mushrooms are available, replace the red wine with white or use all stock, or try different herbs. Italian parsley, chives, cress, marjoram, tarragon, arugula, or even small spinach leaves would be good in this dish. SERVES 6 TO 8

• Water
• 1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
• Salt
• About 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms such as portabella, oyster, chanterelle, shiitake, or crimini
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 heads roasted garlic
• 1/2 cup red wine
• 3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
• Freshly ground pepper
• 1 pound dried pasta such as creste diallo, farfalle, fusilli, or ziti
• 1/2 cup fresh minced dill or parsley
• 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Wash the asparagus and break off the tough ends. Peel the lower halves of the spears and cut them into 1 to 1½-inch lengths. When the water comes to a boil, add salt, and blanch the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Remove the asparagus and let it drain. Reserve the water for cooking the pasta.

2. With a mushroom brush or a damp paper towel, clean the mushrooms. Slice or tear them into ¼ inch-thick pieces. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large nonreactive sauté pan over moderate heat. Sauté the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins and add them to the mushrooms, stirring for another minute. Add the wine, stock, and thyme; salt and pepper generously and cook for about 3 minutes. Cover and remove the pan from the heat.

3. Cook the pasta al dente and drain it. Add it to the pan of sautéed mushrooms over medium heat, along with the asparagus, dill or parsley, and ½ cup cheese. Toss well and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately on warm plates and pass extra cheese.

Susan Belsinger writes regularly for The Herb Companion and is the author of many books, most recently Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide, with Thomas DeBaggio. She lives in Brookeville, Maryland.

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