My daughter Sadie and I went to Italy during the time I was writing Eating with the Ground Up, and although the trip was all pleasure and no work I couldn't help but scribble notes down in my little book when a vegetable had been prepared well.
Sadie ended up doing the same — often at the end of the day we'd compare notes, trying to figure out exactly what had made that particular cream sauce or pizza so mind-blowing. We both agreed that this dish of asparagus bacon pasta needed to be recorded and reproduced.
The combination of asparagus, cream, and pasta is a common spring menu item in Italy, but this particular version was so light, and the tarragon infused it all with a perfume that brought out the best flavors in every element of the dish. Luckily, we came home to my asparagus patch in overdrive, and we all had no qualms with testing this recipe over and over again.
Asparagus and Bacon Pasta
sliced bacon (6 to 8 slices)
asparagus, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
dried fusilli or other short, curly pasta
finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 1/4 cups
Freshly ground black pepper
frozen or fresh peas
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F.
Place the bacon slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the edges begin to crisp, about 6 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and use tongs to flip the bacon slices. Arrange the bacon slices close to one another to free up at least 1/3 of the baking sheet. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Place the asparagus pieces on the empty third of the baking sheet. Toss them in the rendered bacon fat, season with salt, and arrange in a single layer. Roast until the bacon is very crisp and the asparagus is dark green with slightly wrinkled skin, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Leave the asparagus on the baking sheet. While the asparagus is cooking, cook the pasta.
Add the pasta to the water, reduce the heat to medium-high, and boil until tender, 11 to 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and return the empty pot to medium heat.
Melt the butter in the pot, then add the tarragon. Whisk in the flour and let the mixture cook, whisking once or twice, until it colors and smells nutty, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and cream. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking as it thickens, 2 to 4 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the peas, stirring to thaw them (or cook them, if they’re fresh) in the sauce. When the peas are warm, remove the pot from the heat.
Add the pasta and asparagus to the warm sauce. Crumble the bacon into small bits into the pot, and stir to coat everything in the sauce. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Reprinted with permission from Eating from the Ground Up: Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables by Alana Chernila, copyright (c) 2018, Clarkson Potter.