Last Saturday, as I posted earlier, I picked up some great produce from the Headhouse Square Farmer’s Market. Springtime means asparagus time, and although I’ve been cooking with it for the last few weeks (once I start- I can’t stop!), this was the first opportunity to find it locally and organically grown. I visited the A.T. Buzby farm stand from New Jersey and picked up asparagus, as well as zucchini.

I found a great recipe posted on The Kitchn from the Design*Sponge website. It’s an absorption-style recipe, which is similar to risotto, except with pasta instead of rice. It calls for a short style pasta, such as penne or rotinni. However, when I opened my cabinets, I realized I only had spaghetti pasta. I broke the spaghetti into shorter pieces. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked fine for the time being. I’ll make it again in the future and make sure I have the right pasta.

Whole wheat pasta, shallots, asparagus, lemons, and Pancetta

3/4 lb. good-quality penne
2 or 3 shallots, finely sliced, or half of a small yellow onion, finely diced
2-4 slices of pancetta, chopped
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 lb.  Feta cheese
Zest of one lemon
4 cups  chicken stock
kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
2 tablespoons  olive oil

To prepare the asparagus, snap off the woody ends. Cut each stalk into angled pieces roughly the length and shape of the pasta.  Keep the tips separate from the stalks once you have cut them, as you will add them to the pasta at different times later.
To prepare the pancetta, put olive oil in a saucepan with tall sides over medium-high heat.  Once the oil has heated up, cook the pancetta to render the fat and crisp it up. Remove from the saucepan and and set it aside.

For the pasta, add the sliced shallots to the pan and sauté until they start to soften, a minute or less. Add in the dry pasta and stir it around for one minute to coat it in the oil and shallots, toasting the pasta a little bit. Keep an eye on the shallots to make sure they aren’t burning.

Pour in 2 1/2 or 3 cups  of chicken stock and give it a good stir (the pasta should be nearly covered). Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to keep it from boiling. Cook for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the pasta is about half done, stir in the asparagus stalks. Stir more frequently for two minutes as the stock cooks away, careful not to break the pasta.  You might need another splash of stock; you don’t want the pan to dry out all the way.  When the pasta seems to be getting close to done—test frequently!—add the asparagus tips.

Cook another minute or two, stirring constantly, until al dente.   Since this dish holds the heat and the pasta keeps cooking a little once you’ve removed it from the heat, you should err on the side of less—rather than more—cooked.

You should still have some thickened broth at the bottom of the pan; as you toss the pasta to season it this will coat everything and make it silky instead of sticky.

Remove from the heat and stir in half of the pancetta and three-quarters of the lemon zest. Season to taste, but remember that you’ll be adding salty feta on top.

To serve, top each portion with crumbled feta, pancetta, and lemon zest.

Aside from the pasta swap, this was a wonderful meal. Although it seems like alot of steps, it’s actually quite easy. The pancetta and asparagus is a fantastic combination. I didn’t get enough zest out of my lemons as they’ve been in the fridge for a few days and they were soft. Also, I totally forgot about the feta! This meal was salty enough as is, so the omittion of the feta was no big deal. Will make this again, probably for guests, or just for myself.

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