Red bowl, meet asparagus.

It’s asparagus season, and red bowl loves asparagus. Luckily, I do too.

Although the weather is still in denial that it’s spring, I vote we ignore that small hiccup and move on to enjoy one of the season’s best veggies. I don’t know if the general population likes asparagus as much as I do, but I can’t get enough of the stuff. I could pretty much eat it plain. One of my favorite recipes showcases the simplicity of asparagus by blanching it and tossing it with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon zest. Basic and addicting. It doesn’t take much to turn those green stalks into a dinner-party worthy side dish.

This recipe, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly give asparagus a leading role, but it’s a delicious way to get even the most skeptical of vegetable eaters to sing its praises. I guess nothing has the ability to convert asparagus haters more than a creamy sauce and some spiral pasta. Throwing it all together in a cute little red bowl doesn’t hurt either.

Don’t be turned off by the word creamy here. This is nowhere near the bad for you creaminess of an Alfredo sauce. It uses goat cheese and pasta water to create a creamy spread that sticks to all those yummy edges of the spiral pasta. I also tweaked the recipe slightly to try and up the healthiness factor (see the note below). And did you know asparagus is one of the “clean 15” foods that is safe to buy non-organic?

Let’s not forget the best part. This recipe is deceptively simple. As I was going through the steps, I had to stop and reread the recipe at least three times to convince myself that I didn’t miss something. I know the side dish I just mentioned is ridiculously easy too, but I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that a pasta sauce this good could be thrown together in less than 15 minutes.

The end result is a dish that is light and fresh with a bright pop of lemon. The fresh tarragon also gives the sauce a welcome kick. I’ll admit, I was nervous about using fresh tarragon because of its licorice taste, but the combination with the lemon and cheese makes it subtle enough to add a hint of something extra. I actually think it makes a big difference in this dish.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

NOTE: The original recipe (link above) uses only goat cheese instead of a mix of goat cheese and cottage cheese. I opted for the cottage cheese to make the recipe a little healthier. Cottage cheese may seem like a weird choice for a pasta dish, but it’s a key ingredient in my absolute favorite mac and cheese recipe ever. If it can work for mac and cheese, it can work here. And it does. It mellows out the sharpness of the goat cheese and the result is just as creamy as you’d hope.

Serves 6

1 pound whole wheat spiral-shaped pasta (reserve about 1 cup of pasta water)
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel (or the zest of one lemon)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon plus more for garnish (the fresh tarragon was key in this recipe)
1 4-ounce log soft fresh goat cheese
1 lb cottage cheese, small curd (preferably organic, since it has a little more punch of flavor)

Directions:

In a large pot of well-salted water, begin cooking the pasta until al dente (don’t forget to reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining). While the pasta cooks, prepare the asparagus and the sauce. In a separate pot, add water, salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until firm but slightly tender, no more than 2-3 minutes (should still be bright green). Drain asparagus in a colander and run under cold water. Set aside. (Note: to save dishes, you can boil the asparagus in the same pot as the pasta if you just add it about 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done and then drain it all together. You can skip running cold water over it in this case).

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the goat cheese, cottage cheese, tarragon and lemon zest. Pulse until smooth. Once the pasta is ready, strain it, (reserving some pasta water) and return the pasta to the pot. Add the cheese sauce and stir to coat. Add a splash of pasta water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Continue to add pasta water if more is needed until the sauce reaches your desired consistency (it’s a thicker consistency than a creamy Alfredo-type sauce so you most likely will only need a little bit of the pasta water). Finally, add the cooked asparagus and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

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