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Creamy Cannellini and Asparagus Pasta

May 9, 2007

Talk about comfort food!

A few months ago I found out my cousin Crimson, goofball extraordinaire and the only other one of my family out here on the east coast, also enjoys spending some time in the kitchen. Apparently she’s even been making some diy cooking shows which she has yet to post on the youtube. I think she should do that soon, because I’m sure they are beyond entertaining. I asked her to share a recipe that she cooks regularly, feeling a lot like a 1950s housewife sharing casserole recipes over the back fence. Except we shared over email. And it’s not a casserole recipe. And we’re neither of us housewives, though I’m getting really good at pretending I am.

Of course I changed it around just a little bit, because that’s what I do, but this was every bit as tasty as she claimed. I’m not sure I could eat it every week, like she does, because my arse would expand exponentially, but it was a hearty dinner that made everyone in the household happy, and I suspect it will make you happy, too, if you care to try it out yourself.

There is tons of room for variation here. Crimson said she uses ground pork and broccoli, or whatever other vegetables are in season. I used pancetta and asparagus. I suspect zucchini and Italian sausage would be happy-making. Ground turkey would make it at least a little bit lighter, and would add that interesting peppery turkey taste. Roasted grape tomatoes would be pretty stupendous. I’m beginning to see how this could be a once-a-week meal.

Creamy Cannellini and Asparagus Pasta

  • olive oil (probably about 2 T. total)
  • 1/2 a small onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • a few ounces of pancetta, sliced
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 or 7 sprigs of thyme, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans
  • 1/2 lb. of pasta (I used a mix of shapes to finish up a bunch of bags I had in the pantry–campanelle, orechiette, and elbow macaroni. The orechiette were the best.)
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • about 1 c. whole-milk or cream (I accidently used fat free and had to throw a dollop of ricotta in there to thicken it out.)
  • 1 c. grated pecornio romano or parmesan
  • salt and pepper

I should have worked out a plan before hand, because things got a bit hectic toward the end of the cooking process, with three different pans going and a few ingredients not yet chopped and all that fun stuff. I really put this together by the seat of my pants, and I don’t usually like to do that, but it turned out just fine. for you, though, I have worked out a plan, so you won’t have to try to whisk and chop at the same time. That rarely works.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-large skillet over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the garlic and onion, and saute for a minute or two, until it starts smelling awesome. Add the pancetta and saute for a minute or two. Blanch the asparagus in the boiling water for a minute, then remove it all with a spider or slotted spoon and add it to the pancetta pan. Drain most of the liquid of the can of beans (keep a little bit, for extra beany flavory) and add the beans to the skillet. Mix it all up together, stir in the thyme, lower the heat a bit, and let it cook. You can mostly leave it alone now, but probably give it a quick toss around every few minutes.

Let the water come back to a boil and add the pasta.

In another skillet, make the cream sauce, a basic bechamel. You know how it goes–melt the butter and maybe a bit of olive oil. Add the flour and whisk into a paste. Slowly add milk, whisking, until it’s slightly thick, then slowly add the cheese and keep whisking until it’s thicker. Salt and pepper it a bit, and you’re done.

Drain the pasta, and add it back to the big pot. Toss the pancetta and asparagus and the cream sauce into the pot with the pasta and stir it all to mix it together, and you have dinner. You could probably garnish with some basil or parsley. If you were feeling up to it, you could sprinkle some bread crumbs on top and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes. I suspect there are endless variations on this dinner.

Tasty pasta

Crimson wrote that sausage was too strongly flavored, but Eunice, Crystal, and I all thought sausage would be awesome. I guess each to his own. What other kinds of variations can you think of? Roasted red peppers? Carrots? Would carrots be too crazy? Yeah, I suspect carrots would be a little crazy.

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