Sunday, May 22, 2016

Asparagus, Lemon, and White Bean Pasta

Just two more weeks until the start of the Fairmount Neighborhood Farmers Market June 5th. With the recent drizzly weather, it might feel hard to believe that summer is almost here, but it provides the perfect excuse to cook up a pot of beans. And if you do, be sure to save the bean broth. This flavor-packed liquid has recently been elevated to cult status, redubbed aquafabaas a vegan substitute for egg whites. I've been independently obsessing about bean broth as the perfect medium in which to cook pasta, such as the iconic Italian dish of pasta con ceci, described here and here. This method of one pot cooking of pasta in a small volume of flavorful broth, like risotto, is apparently standard in Italy, and what we should all be doing now that water is becomes a scarcer resource.

For a spring version with delicate white beans, I riffed off Melissa Clark's delicious pasta with fried lemons, adding in asparagus. Bean broth plus the flavored water used to blanch the lemon wedges and asparagus served as the pasta cooking medium. The possibilities are endless, and well worth making room for tubs of bean broth in your freezer for quick, one pot, weeknight dinners. 

Asparagus, Lemon, and White Bean Pasta
serves four
2-3 lemons
1 bunch asparagus
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
pinch of sugar
1/4 tbsp red pepper flakes or to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans

2 cups bean broth, salted to taste
2 cups salted water in which lemons and asparagus were blanched
8 ounces small pasta such as ditalini or elbow noodles
freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving 

1. Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil. Trim the tops and bottoms off the lemons and cut lengthwise into quarters; remove seeds. Thinly slice the quarters crosswise into triangles. Blanch the lemon pieces in the boiling water for 2 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a dish towel. Blot dry.

2. Trim the asparagus and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths. In the same water that you used for the lemons, blanch the asparagus for 4 minutes. Strain the asparagus and reserve the flavored blanching water.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat. Add the dried lemon pieces and season with a pinch each of salt and sugar. Cook until the lemons are caramelized and browned at the edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. 

4. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the asparagus for 2 minutes over medium high heat to char slightly. Transfer to the plate with the lemon wedges.

5. Add one more tablespoon of olive oil to the hot skillet and the chili flakes, and then the beans and toss briefly. Now add about two cups of bean broth, the pasta, and about two cups of the lemony blanching water, such that the pasta is submerged. Cook simmering, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking, and adding more broth to keep the pasta submerged, until the pasta is just undercooked, about 12 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, lemon wedges, and a tablespoon of butter and cook one more minute. Avoid overcooking the pasta and make sure that the final dish has enough liquid to form a thick sauce. Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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