over the years, i’ve made different versions of asparagus ricotta pasta. in fact, the first time i ever tried the recipe (maaanny years ago), i didn’t even like asparagus yet (or so i thought). i’ve since lost track of the source of that original recipe so every time i come across a version, i always take a look to see how it stacks up to the recipe of my memory. over time, i’ve cobbled together my own franken-version, pulling bits of inspiration and ingredients from here and there, as well as what i remember of that first version i ever had. it’s funny, i’m sure if i tried that original recipe today, i wouldn’t find it to be significantly better than any of the versions i’ve tried since. and yet.
i think this awareness serves as a metaphor for what i’ve been learning recently: change is difficult, even when it’s a positive change. i made this observation to my husband a few weeks ago, at the end of a day that was just… a bit difficult. nothing notable happened, it wasn’t a bad day… it was just kind of hard.
i attributed the feelings i was having that day to upending everything in our lives simultaneously: recently we both quit our jobs, sold our house, moved two hours north to portland, maine, bought a new house, and are each striving to set up our own businesses (this, tasty seasons, is mine). we have an adorable house (that needs a bunch of work and is perpetually in a state of chaos as we tackle multiple projects simultaneously…) in a city that i love and look forward to exploring. but it’s not our city, not yet.
i can’t help but compare this experience to the last time we moved somewhere new. the last time turned out to be… not the right place for us (we left after less than a year). this feels totally different: i have this deep, inexplicable sense that this is my place. the ocean is nearby. the people are friendly but keep their detailed medical histories to themselves in the checkout line. there are walking trails snaking all over the city. and bricks! so many buildings downtown feature my favorite architectural style: old bricks and wooden beams. so if ever there was a city tailor made for me, it feels like portland is it.
despite feeling like i belong here though, i still have no idea where to take the dry cleaning. or where to buy really good ricotta, now that my beloved produce store is two hours away.
which brings me back to this recipe: hopefully you do know where to buy good ricotta near you, because it makes a difference in this recipe. you can certainly make this with grocery store ricotta (that’s what i ended up doing this time…) but if you can get your hands on some good, handmade stuff, you’ll definitely want to use it here. maybe my next iteration of this asparagus ricotta pasta will include trying to make my own ricotta. because change is growth and growth is good, right?
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 2 teaspoons high smoke point oil, such as extra light olive oil
- 12 oz. (¾ pound) short pasta, such as penne or fusilli
- 4 oz. (113 g. / ½ cup) ricotta (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 oz. (28 g. / 1/3 cup) grated hard italian cheese (pecorino romano, parmesan, etc.), plus additional to pass at the table, if you wish
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional/to taste
- 1 oz. (28 g. / 1 cup tightly packed) baby arugula
- ¼ cup basil ribbons
- for the pasta, fill a large pot 2/3 full with water, cover, and set over high heat to boil.
- wash asparagus and pat dry. break or cut the tough ends off.
- heat oil over medium heat in a large, flat bottom skillet with a lid. ideally, your trimmed asparagus will fit in the pan in one layer, or as close to a single layer as possible. once the oil is hot, add the asparagus, turn them over to coat all sides in oil, cover, and set a timer for 4 minutes. halfway through the cook time, flip the asparagus over a bit (don’t worry about getting every single piece rotated 180°). replace the lid on the pan.
- when the asparagus is done, transfer it to a cutting board and cut into 1” segments (either wait a few minutes for it to cool or hold the pieces you’re cutting with a fork so you don’t burn your fingers). set aside.
- when the water boils, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. just before draining the pasta, save 1 cup of the cooking water to use later to thin out the sauce.
- place the ricotta, extra virgin olive oil, cheese, lemon zest, garlic, and crushed red pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. add the cut asparagus and arugula then stir gently.
- when the pasta is done, add it to the bowl with the ricotta mixture, stirring gently and adding pasta water as necessary to thin out the cheese.
- serve and top each serving with basil. pass additional grated hard cheese at the table, if you wish.
as i mentioned above, if you can get really good, handmade ricotta, do it. in a recipe with simple flavors like this, it makes a difference. as far as supermarket brands, cook’s illustrated did a ricotta taste test and recommended calabro brand but, alas, it doesn’t seem to be available in maine (the calabro website lists the states where it’s available). if you end up using whatever your grocery store stocks, taste the cheese mixture after you season it to determine if it needs more of anything.
adapted liberally from ny times' pasta with asparagus, arugula, and ricotta