Thursday, June 14, 2012

Penne with Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter

I love asparagus season. It's the time of year when you can find whisper thin stems at deliciously low prices -- just one of the perks of enjoying things while in season. My favorite way to eat it is to toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast it in the oven. Just like that, it's the perfect side, but this pasta dish takes it to the next level. At first, it may seem a bit complicated, but it comes together very quickly.

Yes, you have to reduce balsamic vinegar, but it's easy as a wink, just BTB RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer), in the words of Anne Burrell. The first time I made this, I over-reduced the vinegar, resulting in a super-sticky viscous muck that didn't incorporated easily with the pasta at the end. So learn from my mistakes and stop before it gets to that point. It should move like pancake syrup and flow easily around the pan.

This is going to be a new favorite, and will probably make in into regular rotation in your menu. It has for us!

If asparagus isn't in season, you can easily substitute broccoli, roasted in the same manner. Holy Hannah, my mouth is watering!

Penne with Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter
adapted from Food & Wine

1 lb. asparagus (thin stalks work best with the penne)
1 Tbsp. olive oil 
2 tsp. salt 
1/2 tsp. black pepper 
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar 
1/2 tsp. brown sugar 
1 lb. penne 
1/2 c. (1 stick)  butter, cut into pieces 
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat the oven to 400°. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until about 1/4 c. remains. Stir in the brown sugar, butter, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.

Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the vinegar mixture, asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Variation: When asparagus is not in season, cut 1 lb. of broccoli into small spears for roasting. Toss them with 2 Tbsp. oil and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes.

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