Farfalle with asparagus, lemon, and ricotta

(Jonathan Levitt for The Boston Globe)
May 27, 2009

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Serves 4

Even though asparagus spears are in markets many months of the year, they're best freshly harvested from local farms. The green spears are the shoots of a perennial lily bulb. When the soil is warm enough the spears shoot up through the surface and head straight for the sun. They grow fast, and are ready to eat, long and thick, just a day after they break through the dirt. For a springtime pasta that stars asparagus, slice thick spears on a diagonal. Cook them in butter with chili flakes and toss with farfalle (the Italian word means butterfly), also known as bow ties, fresh ricotta, lemon rind, and pecorino cheese. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of fruity olive oil. The good stuff is always worth the wait.

Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound farfalle (bow tie pasta)
1 bunch asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1/4 cup pasta cooking water
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil (for sprinkling)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the farfalle and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender but still has some bite.

2. Meanwhile, snap off and discard the tough asparagus ends. Cut the spears on a diagonal into 2-inch pieces.

3. In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Stir in the red pepper.

4. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pasta cooking water. Remove 1/4 cup of water. Add the pasta water to the asparagus. Cover the skillet and cook the asparagus for 3 minutes or until bright green. Remove from the heat.

5. Drain the pasta into a colander. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the asparagus mixture, ricotta, and romano. Toss well. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon rind and juice, and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss again.

Jonathan Levitt