Wednesday, June 23, 2010
this time with pasta
I don't have a lot of original ideas right now, because I'm too busy proofreading other people's original ideas. So this weekend when I finally had a spare hour to cook, I opted for an ingredient combination I've relied on heavily this spring, asparagus and pancetta.
Asparagus and pancetta! Two great tastes that taste great together! You've got your crisp, fresh vegetable and your salty, cured pork; your green stem and your pink flesh; your vitamin provider and your artery clogger. We know they pair well in hash, they're delicious together in soup, and I can now vouch for their union in pasta.
But the dish I made on Saturday wasn't just any pasta (keep reading, my vegetarian friends, my asparagus-hating frenemies, there's something here for you, too!), it was absorption pasta. Perhaps you've heard of it? Sometimes referred to as cooking pasta "risotto style," the absorption method uses a small amount of stock instead of gallons of water, which produces creamy, al dente pasta in a flavorful pan sauce. I chose this particular recipe because of my lack of originality, but the pancetta and asparagus could be substituted with just about anything edible—I found recipes online for absorption pasta made with everything from mushrooms and chicken to chocolate and zucchini. The recipe I worked from suggested using pancetta and asparagus in the spring; roasted squash, sage, and walnuts in the fall; sausage and kale in the winter; heirloom tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella in late summer. What I'm getting at here is that the technique is versatile.
And the technique is easy, too. Calling it "risotto-style pasta" is misleading, because making risotto is a pain in the ass, while making risotto-style pasta is not. There are variations, but here's the gist: heat some oil in a pan; add and sauté shallots or garlic or onions; add the dry pasta and a cup or two of liquid (broth or water);
bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, adding more liquid as necessary, until the pasta is done to your liking.
This isn't just a slightly more complicated way to cook your spaghetti. Pasta made this way tastes different than the kind that's boiled in a vat of water—better, in my opinion. Closer to the texture of fresh pasta, and much more flavorful. The pancetta and asparagus didn't hurt, either, of course.
Absorption Pasta With Asparagus and Pancetta
Adapted from a recipe by Kate Flaim on design*sponge
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices of pancetta, chopped
2 shallots, finely sliced
¾ lb. penne
3–4 cups stock [I used Imagine's No Chicken Broth]
1 pound of asparagus, woody ends removed, cut on the bias into penne-sized pieces, with the tips kept separate
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. Add the shallots or onion to the warm oil (and um, rendered pork fat) in the Dutch oven and cook until soft, just a minute or so. Throw in the pasta and stir to coat with oil.
3. Add 1–2 cups of stock to the pot, enough to not-quite-cover the pasta. Bring to a simmer but keep from boiling.
4. Cook, stirring frequently and adding more stock in half cups as necessary: The pasta should be neither soupy nor dry.
5. Begin tasting the pasta after 5–7 minutes. When it is tender but with a tiny bit of crunch, add the asparagus stalks. At this point, you'll want to stir quite frequently and monitor closely so the pan doesn't dry out, continuing to add liquid as necessary. When the pasta is nearly finished, add the asparagus tips and cook another minute or two until the pasta is done to your liking (keep in mind that it will continue to cook after you take it off the heat, and err on the side of al dente).
6. There should be some reduced stock at the bottom of the pan: When tossed with the pasta it becomes a silky sauce. Add the pancetta, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (or more to taste). Add freshly ground pepper, but taste again before salting—the pancetta added plenty of saltiness to mine, and keep in mind that you'll be adding feta, which can be salty, as well.
7. Serve topped with feta cheese.