Just when my resolution to cut back majorly on wheat products is going so well, I keep spotting adorable imported Italian specialty pasta in my otherwise underwhelming local grocery stores. And I buy it. The mix-and-match game of pairing the right pasta shape with the right sauce or chunky tidbit is too much of a kick to stop.
The dried egg bucatini at our city’s Aldi franchise especially caught my eye. Those long, irregular curls of noodles looked so tactile, so ready to soak up flavor. And a steal at $1.99! Normally I’d serve them with a hearty Bolognese, but the actual shape of the bucatini reminded me of asparagus spears. And it’s spring. My springtime pastas usually burst with green things: fresh herbs, peas. The green things in question are all from California or Mexico, not my garden, but we can pretend, can’t we?
To make straightforward pasta assemblages like this work, strategic use of pasta cooking water is crucial. It marries all of the flavors together and keeps it all slick without being greasy. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it does not make the pasta watery.
Bucatini with Asparagus, Peas, Feta, and Herbs
It’s a bit of a misnomer, calling this “bucatini with blah blah”, because unless you can find this particular style of dried egg bucatini—short, with variances from noodle to noodle—it’s better to use plain old penne. Typical dried bucatini is long, like spaghetti, and a whole different bag. Likewise, feel free to use other leafy fresh herbs (I'd set out initially to buy chervil for this. But the mint and dill pairing here is killer.
- 1 pound asparagus, about the width of your pinkie, ends trimmed and discarded and spears snapped into sections about 1-1/2 inches long
- 1-1/2 cup frozen peas
- 1 pound dried penne or gemelli pasta (or, if you can find it, cute dried bucatini made with eggs)
- Finely grated zest of one lemon
- 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ¾ cup loosely packed fresh dill fronds
- ¾ cup fresh mint leaves, sliced into tiny shreds (chiffonade)
- half a lemon
Bring a large pot of salted water to a full boil. Add the asparagus spears and cook 3 minutes, until crisp-tender.
Meanwhile, place the frozen peas in the bottom of your colander and set the colander in a large bowl. Using a skimmer, lift the asparagus from the boiling water and drain it in the colander. Set aside.
Plunge the pasta into the boiling water, reduce the heat so the water boils with a little less force, and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water for the sauce. Set the colander with the vegetables in the sink and drain the pasta.
Turn the colander of vegetables and pasta back into the warm pot. Add the lemon zest, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and a few generous grindings of black pepper. Toss with about ¼ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Add the feta cheese and herbs and squeeze the lemon over the whole works. Continue tossing it all together. The pasta will continue to absorb more of the cooking water. Keep tasting and tossing. Don’t give up! This tasting and tweaking step is what makes or breaks a simple pasta dish. It should be just salty enough and not dry or bland.
Serve at once. Exhale and enjoy your spring. Green things are happening.