A Vegetarian Pasta kicks off Asparagus Season with a twist.
The first asparagus of the season is something we can’t wait for. Asparagus has become a virtually year-round staple, imported off-season from South America. But nothing compares to the home-grown variety. We love asparagus so much that it appears in no less than 30 recipes on Chewing The Fat. (I’ll post a compendium of them just before today’s recipe.) The first thing I decided to cook this asparagus season was a great twist on Carbonara. The Roman pasta dish is made with egg, hard cheese, cured pork, and black pepper. There’s no pork in this version. It’s pure vegetarian. Shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, and Reggiano Parmigiano makes the sauce. For the Carbonara portion, egg yolk is stirred into each portion steaming hot serving of pasta. The egg makes the dish, an unctuous sauce that coats the vegetables, cheese and pasta. I switched to Jumbo Eggs to get as much yolk into the dish as possible. And it really paid off.
Asparagus has been prized for centuries.
For its distinct flavor and diuretic properties, Asparagus has been used as a vegetable for millennia. It was pictured on an Egyptian frieze dating from 3000 BC. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac must have helped its popularity. Syrians, Spaniards, Greeks, and Romans all ate asparagus in season. There’s a recipe for cooking asparagus in one of the world’s oldest surviving collections of recipes dating from the third century B.C.
Asparagus comes to America.
As early as 1655, a Dutch immigrant to New Netherland named Adriaen van der Donck mentioned asparagus in a description he wrote of Dutch farming practices in the New World. British immigrants grew asparagus as well. William Penn, who advertised Pennsylvania to bring new immigrants there, included asparagus in a long list of crops that grew well there. This was in 1685.
Why is the Asparagus in the Hamptons so good?
Asparagus thrives in soils that are too saline for normal weeds to grow. Traditionally, a little salt was used to suppress weeds in beds of asparagus. Here in the Hamptons, no such accommodation has to be made. Farms “out east” are never further than five miles from the sea. The fog that rolls in off the ocean is all the weed-control asparagus needs. And nowhere is this more true than at MariLee Foster’s 10-acre vegetable farm in Sagaponack NY, a scant half-mile from the Atlantic. At MariLee’s roadside Farmstand (698 Sagg Main St., Sagaponack NY), you’ll find only the best of seasonal vegetables. This year’s asparagus is best in class. The purple asparagus pictured differs from its green counterparts in having high sugar and low fiber levels. In all honesty, I could not taste a great difference and as the purple asparagus cooks, it loses a great deal of its color.
And what else can you find at Foster Farm…would you believe Vodka and Whisky?
In case you are not familiar with our part of the world, Sagaponack is the second most expensive zip code in the country. Despite the incredible rise in real estate values, the Fosters have held onto their farm. Fosters have farmed and lived in Sagaponack since the 1870s. And they have no intention of stopping. Their farm now numbers 180 acres of beautifully fertile land which Marilee’s brother Dean describes as ‘the earth is gold to farm’. They have however switched over from growing Long Island potatoes for export. Instead, they are using them to make Vodka and a Whisky called “Single Spud”. Their Sagaponack Spirts Company has been making the spirit since 2015. Their motto is “From Seed to Glass…100% Sagaponack. And yes, you can order online https://sagaponackfarmdistillery.com/
Here’s today’s recipe right after some other great ways to cook Asparagus.
Fettucine with Shiitakes and Asparagus
A great pasta dish that takes full advantage of local Asparagus in a recipe that will make anyone a vegetarian
- 3 tablespoons Olive Oil divided
- 1 bunch Asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
- 2 ounces of unsalted Butter
- 8 ounces of Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
- 1 small shallot, diced
- 1 tsp. fresh Oregano, chopped
- 1 tsp. fresh Thyme, chopped
- 12 oz. dried Fettucine
- 3 oz. Parmesan, grated, about ¾ cup
- 4 Jumbo Egg Yolks
- Step 1 Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Step 2 Heat butter and remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add shallot and cook, tossing occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Toss in oregano, thyme, and asparagus
- Step 3 Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
- Step 4 Add pasta, 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid, and 3 ounces Parmesan to skillet. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Step 5 Divide pasta among plates and top each with a yolk and more Parmesan.