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 Pasta with asparagus Inspired by a dinner at a top restaurant in Avignon, a simple pasta dish that showcases the spring flavors and color of fresh asparagus.
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Pasta with asparagus

As I reported in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor, one of the top food-and-wine treats of our recent trip to France's Rhone Valley was a dinner at Restaurant Christian Etienne in Avignon, where the eponymous chef put together a full dinner of small plates that all featured variations on two seasonal spring vegetables: asparagus and artichokes.

Naturally I came home eager to try my hand at something similar. The artichokes at the produce market didn't look particularly exciting, but a bundle of fresh green asparagus was just fine. I decided not to try to replicate any of Christian Etienne's dishes exactly, but simply let myself be inspired by his general approach to building dishes around the flavors and textures of the spring veggies, and came up with this simple pasta dish that I thought nicely showcased the theme ingredient.

The procedure may look a little complicated because I divided the asparagus into three parts and treated each slightly differently, but it's really as simple as can be, requiring little more than a half-hour from start to finish, much of that time spent waiting for the vegetables to simmer.

To sum it up, it involves cutting asparagus into bite-size lengths, simmering most of them and the spear tips until tender, while whizzing the cooked stem ends with a little heavy cream or creme fraiche to make a sauce, serving the result over short pasta.

Here's how:

INGREDIENTS: (serves 2)

8- to 12-ounce bunch fresh green asparagus (250 to 350g)
4 ounces (120g) conchiglie (small shell pasta) or other short pasta
1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream or creme fraiche
Black pepper


1. Rinse the asparagus, cut off and discard any woody ends, then cut the spears into bite-size (1/2-inch or 1-cm) lengths, keeping the spear tips separate.

2. Bring about 1 cup lightly salted water to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer about one-third of the cut-up asparagus until it's tender. Lift it out with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water, and blend the cooked asparagus and the creme fraiche into a smooth puree with a standing or stick blender. Reserve.

3. Put the pasta on to boil in a large pot of salted water as per package instructions.

4. While the pasta is cooking, simmer the rest of the asparagus in the reserved cooking water for about 10 minutes or until it's just tender. Put the spear points in a little later so they won't overcook. Drain the asparagus well and return it to the saucepan with the reserved asparagus-cream sauce. Stir to blend, and add black pepper, cumin and additional salt to taste. Keep it warm over very low heat.

5. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and stir it into the asparagus sauce. Serve in warm bowls. (OPTIONS: I could also see serving the asparagus and asparagus cream as a standalone vegetable dish with a separate starch course - bread or potatoes - or serving it over rice.)

I served this as a side dish with a red-meat course, flatiron steaks with a hot-sour Veracruzana-style marinade (which I'll be happy to discuss in a coming edition if there's any interest), and chose a red Rhone wine to go with the steaks. If I were looking for a direct match for an asparagus dish like this, I would follow the lead of Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe at Christian Etienne and go with Rhone-Languedoc or Loire whites or Loire or Provence rosés.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Pasta with asparagus,"

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Seared tuna Japanese-style (June 2, 2005)

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Thursday, June 16, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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