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Spring Fling: Cavatappi with Green Asparagus

After many months of winter squash, stored potatoes, and nothing green except kale and cabbage, I’m always particularly excited when the first spring produce appears at my farmer’s market (radishes! asparagus! scallions!). Since these portents of the new growing season also stick around into June, I don’t feel too bad for letting this entry sit around since early May. So even though it’s now almost summer, and we have the mugginess to prove it, here is a quick dinner to help you celebrate that first tender green asparagus. I’ve been making variations of this for a few weeks now.

Note: Cavatappi are a sort of corkscrew-looking pasta that look a bit like someone took a penne noodle, stretched and then twisted it. They hold all sorts of sauces well, and small lengths of asparagus can snuggle into their twists.

What’s involved:
Start with about 1/2 lb (a good bundle or a bit more) green asparagus, stalks cut into smaller pieces, with thicker pieces also halved. Cook about 4 oz of cavatappi (or farfalle or penne) – but more isn’t wrong, so feel free – the usual way.

Meanwhile, in big pan, heat olive oil (enough to thinly cover the bottom of the pan) over medium-high, along with a sprig of tarragon. If you don’t have fresh tarragon, or it’s that is not your thing, and the anise flavor doesn’t appeal to you at all, use a sprig of fresh sage instead.

When the oil is hot, add the bottoms of the asparagus stalks, plus a small pat of good butter. Add a pinch of salt. After about 5 minutes, add the asparagus heads (or put all the asparagus in at the same time if the stalks are equal in thickness form head to end, or you don’t care about different levels of tenderness). Thinner stalks will cook quicker so you can get a variety of doneness in this dish.

Fish out the tarragon sprig and add a good splash of dry vermouth (the white one) or white wine, maybe a bit more butter, and turn down the heat to low.

By now the pasta should be done. Drain the pasta but keep about 1/4 cup or so of the pasta water. Add the pasta and some of the pasta water to the pan with the asparagus. Let things meld together, stir occasionally.

If there is too much liquid in the pan, turn up the heat for a few minutes to let things cook down and reduce the sauce. Grate a bit of fresh lemon zest over everything, as well as some fresh black pepper and salt to taste. Stir.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Gran Pandano cheese.

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