This pasta recipe showcases one of spring's most delicious vegetables
When anybody asks me whether Austrians like asparagus, I can answer them in one simple word. "Spargelzeit," which means "asparagus time."
Imagine a country where spring's arrival is announced not just by flowers but also by market baskets brimming with asparagus. Everyone there rhapsodizes especially about white asparagus, shoots grown covered up so their green chlorophyll doesn't develop. But you'll certainly find a bounty of green asparagus in Austria, as well, at this time of year, as you do on this side of the Atlantic.
There are endless ways to prepare this delicious springtime vegetable. You can quickly blanch it in boiling water or steam it, to be accompanied by brown butter, buttered breadcrumbs or hollandaise; or fold it into an omelet or rolled it in thin slices of ham; or cook and then serve it chilled, with mayonnaise or vinaigrette. Roasted or grilled, asparagus makes a perfect side dish for meat, poultry or seafood.
The possibilities seem almost endless.
To illustrate that point, I'd like to share one of my favorite recipes for asparagus, featured here along with shiitake mushrooms as a topping for thin strands of angel hair pasta. I find that the earthy, meaty flavor of mushrooms provides a perfect backdrop against which the bright, fresh, slightly grassy flavor of asparagus shines more brightly.
Although the final preparation of the dish goes fairly quickly and easily, it does require a little advance work -- specifically, making the shiitake mushroom base. This is, in effect, a concentrated reduction of the mushrooms, first sauteed with garlic and other aromatic vegetables and then reduced with white wine, broth and a touch of cream before being pureed.
You need to start preparing the base at least an hour before you make the pasta dish itself; or as long as three or four days ahead if you refrigerate the completed base; or as far in advance as a month if you freeze it. The good news is that you'll wind up with far more of the mushroom base than you'll need for just the four servings of pasta. That means you can make this pasta again throughout asparagus season, or use the remaining base to enhance any other dish that includes cooked mushrooms, such as soup, stew, risotto or even other pastas.
Don't have time to make the base, but still want to enjoy asparagus with pasta? Then let me share another easy recipe. Simply cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces, quickly saute it with a little chopped garlic until al dente, using equal parts of butter and olive oil, and then toss it with just-cooked angel hair and freshly grated Parmesan. And have a happy spargelzeit!
ANGEL HAIR WITH ASPARAGUS, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, AND SHAVED PARMESAN CHEESE