As a kid I enjoyed a variety of foods. I remember eating everything from grilled flank steak to Caesar salad. But, like any kid, I had a few vegetables that I just couldn’t bear to eat. Brussels sprouts, lima beans and asparagus: those were my nemeses. I remember cringing and shouting out in disgust whenever I heard that any of those three were to be served at dinner. My poor mom tried every which way to get me to like them, but it was a lost cause. Flash forward to today and, guess what: two out of those three happen to be my favorite vegetables. (Hey, two out of three isn’t bad. Sorry lima beans!)
Thank goodness I have learned to both like and appreciate the taste of asparagus. Nothing signifies spring more to me than the arrival of beautiful stalks of asparagus. When asparagus is at its peak of freshness it tastes sweet and it’s amazingly tender. It’s delicious raw, but even more brilliant cooked. Its earthy flavor holds up well to all kinds of dishes including pastas and frittatas. Not only that, but asparagus is brimming with great-for-you nutrients. It’s contains folate and fiber as well as vitamins A, C, E and K.
Knowing how to pick asparagus at the grocery store is easy. First, choose your color. If you’ve had green, try purple or even white asparagus. Next, choose your size. Thin or thick, it’s a matter of preference as well as how you are planning to prepare it. Thin stalks of asparagus will cook much faster, making them ideal for a quick steam to throw into rice dishes or stir fries. Thicker stalks are great for heartier side dishes but may also require a little more handiwork to in regards to trimming. Finally, make sure the stalks are firm and that the buds on top are closed. If they look wilted or dried out, they aren’t fresh anymore.
After you purchase asparagus, use it within a couple of days. To store, wrap asparagus in a clean, dampened paper towel and place in a plastic bag or other sealable container and keep it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Or, place the stalks in a cup or bowl with the stems resting in about an inch of water. Wrap the tops with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
This asparagus pasta recipe is a welcome replacement to the heartier tomato-based pasta dishes of winter. It’s light, but amazingly filling. Enjoy it for dinner, but be sure to save and safely store the leftovers in the refrigerator, as they are just as delicious the next day! Add a little chicken broth for moisture then re-heat it to 165°F.
Whole-Wheat Penne with Asparagus & Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- 1 pound whole-wheat penne pasta
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup chopped shallot
- 1 bunch asparagus, (peeled if stems are thick), cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup chopped, drained, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 cups shredded boneless rotisserie chicken breast
- ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Crushed red pepper, to taste
- ½ cup crumbled goat cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted* water to a boil. Add the pasta and stir. Return to a boil and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Wash all produce. In a sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss in the asparagus pieces and cook an additional 3-5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Add the sun dried tomatoes, chicken and chicken broth and bring to a simmer, cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes, until chicken is thoroughly heated (at least 165°F).
- Transfer the asparagus mixture to a serving dish or bowl. Add the drained pasta and toss. Add pasta water as necessary to loosen up the pasta. Add the lemon juice and crushed red pepper, along with half of the goat cheese, toss lightly. Portion the pasta into bowls and serve garnished with basil and the remaining goat cheese.