Last night I was determined to put a meal on the table using just stuff I already had in the fridge.
I had some penne I'd picked up recently at Raffetto's on Houston Street - though they make fresh pasta, in my opinion they are best dried pasta purveyor in the city. Not sure where it comes from, but I've always had consistently good results with it. Penne is my "house pasta", along with linguine. In the fridge I had had a small end piece of a hot sopressatta that I'd gotten at Faicco's on Bleecker Street (a superb Italian Pork Store) a couple of weeks ago. I also had half a bunch of young asparagus in the vegetable and some fresh thyme. Nolan loves various kinds of dried sausages, and asparagus is one of the few vegetables he'll eat without too much protest, so I figured I'd base something around those. I decided to do something with an cream and egg yolk base, both of which I nearly always have around, and that I'd throw in some parmesan cheese. I also wanted to use a little cooking apparatus as possible, so this was going to be a one-pot affair.
4 cups dried penne rigate
1/2 lb fresh asparagus, cut diagonally into sliver about 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons diced soppresatta
4 tablespoons double cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves picked from stem
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon zest, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and cook pasta until al dente, about 9 minutes. After reserving 1/c cup of cooking water, drain the pasta in a colander. In the same pot, over high heat, bring half a cup of water to the boil and add the asparagus and stir for 30 seconds to lightly cook. Drain the asparagus in the same colander as the pasta. Making sure the pot is dry, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and add the soppresatta. After about one minute, or when the soppresatta smells fragrant, add the pasta and asparagus, and stir. Turn off the heat and add the cream and egg yolks, stirring, followed by the cheese, and the thyme and red pepper flakes. Stir well to ensure that the pasta is well coated with the sauce, and that the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved cooking water to thin it out so it is glossy. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Put the pasta in a serving dish and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top, along with a spritz of freshly ground pepper and some freshly grated lemon zest.
Serves about 4, or 3 in our house.
I learned to use lemon zest to finish a lot of things from a chef friend of mine who relied on it as one of her culinary signatures, and I think it is very effective when used in the right places. The above dish is basically a carbonara-type sauce with some veggies thrown in, and a dried sausage instead of pancetta. You could used various types of salumi, I think, and a few vegetables could be substituted for the asparagus - peas for instance, maybe even some butternut squash to take it in a different direction. Herbs-wise, you could use fresh oregano or marjoram, or go lighter with something like basil, or parsley. You could also throw in the red pepper flakes at little earlier if you want the dish to be hotter.