Penne with Ricotta and Asparagus

With California asparagus selling for less than $4 per pound, they’re hard to resist, especially with summer weather knocking on the door. I tore this recipe for pasta with asparagus and ricotta cheese out of the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago, where it found its way under a pile of bills, magazines, and other recipes, until today when it became my excuse to gleefully buy some what are sure to be last-of-the-season asparagus. I ammended the original recipe by adding a few dashes of nutmeg to the seasoning, for an added kick. This recipe is simple, both in taste and method, only requires one pot, and makes a huge amount. It’s a little heavy on the pasta, you could easily cut it back. You can also dress it up some by adding lemon zest, cut cherry tomatoes, or even some Italian sausage.

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 1/4 pound thick asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Nutmeg

Method

1 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. (You will cook both the asparagus and the pasta in the same pot of water.) Add a couple teaspoons of salt. Have an ice bath ready. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but firm, about 4 minutes. Remove the asparagus with tongs and place in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Cut the asparagus into 1/8-inch diagonal slices, leaving the tips intact.

2 Bring the water back to a boil and add the penne pasta.

3 While the penne is cooking, rub the inside of a large serving bowl with the mashed garlic. Discard the garlic. Add the ricotta, olive oil, and 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Mix together in the bowl. When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the penne to the ricotta mixture. Fold in the asparagus and half of the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and several dashes of nutmeg. Add some of the reserved pasta water if needed.

Serves 4-8, depending on whether or not this is the main course. Serve with remaining grated Parmesan cheese in a separate bowl for sprinkling.

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