Luscious and easy – and perfect for spring
Asparagus season? Yes! We like to celebrate its iconic springtime flavor whenever the local crop is available.
Asparagus combines wonderfully with ham and cream. Add some pasta to the mix, and you have a simple (but wonderful) main course. Or serve half portions as a starter.
The season for asparagus is fleeting. So spear this recipe while you can.
Recipe: Creamy Pasta with Asparagus and Ham
You could make this dish with Homemade Pasta if you wish. But we generally use dried pasta (a tubular shape, like penne or ziti, works best).
In Italy, you’d probably see this dish made with prosciutto – and that’s a great way to prepare it. But we happened to have some leftover ham, so that’s what we decided to use.
This recipe is adapted from one we found in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Prep time for this dish is 5 to 10 minutes. You’ll need to cook the asparagus for about 5 minutes, but you can prepare that well in advance if you wish. Final cooking takes under 10 minutes.
This recipe yields two main-course servings (or about twice that number if served as a first course). You can easily double or triple the recipe to feed a larger group.
- ~10 ounces asparagus
- ~2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided (or half that amount if using table salt; see Notes)
- 6 to 8 ounces dried pasta (we prefer a tubular shape like penne or ziti; see Notes)
- 4 ounces cooked ham (may increase to 6 or more ounces if you wish)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ~½ cup cream
- ½ to ¾ ounce Parmigiano Reggiano (about ½ cup, packed tightly, when grated; you’ll probably want a bit extra to sprinkle on the pasta at table)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (see Notes)
- Prepare the asparagus: Cut off an inch or two of the less tender butt end of each asparagus spear (up to a third of the spear). You can peel the asparagus if you wish. Fill a large frying pan with water (we use a 12-inch pan). Bring the water to a simmer. Add about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to the water, then add the asparagus. Cook until almost done (about 4 to 5 minutes; the asparagus should be barely tender). Drain the asparagus, then plunge it into a large bowl filled with ice water (this will stop the cooking). Let the asparagus sit for a minute, then spread it out on paper towels to dry. When dry, cut the asparagus into lengths of 2 to 4 inches. (We usually prepare the asparagus several hours ahead of time, then just let it sit on the kitchen counter until ready to use).
- When ready to prepare the dish, measure out the dried pasta. Fill a large cooking pot slightly over half full with water (use a cooking pot that holds at least 4 quarts). Bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, cut the ham into strips about ¼ inch wide and an inch or two long. Place a large frying pan (12-inch, preferably) over low stovetop heat.
- When the pasta water comes to a boil, add about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to season it (see Notes). Add the pasta, then cook until done (usually about 7 minutes for us, which is shorter than the package directions specify; cook it longer if you prefer; but you do want the pasta to be al dente).
- Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of butter to the frying pan and bring the stovetop heat up to medium. When the butter is melted, add the ham strips. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes – you don’t want to let the ham brown.
- While the ham is cooking, measure out the cream and grate the cheese.
- After the ham has cooked for 3 to 4 minutes, add the asparagus to the frying pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the cream, turn down the heat, then let the cream reduce a bit.
- By now the pasta should be ready. Pour the pasta into a colander to drain, then add the cooked pasta to the frying pan with the ham. Toss with the cream and add most of the grated cheese (save a little for garnish).
- Toss the ingredients once more, season with salt and/or freshly ground black pepper, and dish up the pasta. Garnish with the remaining grated cheese.
- Exact quantities of ingredients are not critical in this recipe. Feel free to use more asparagus and/or ham than we suggest. But don’t use too much cream – the pasta and other ingredients should be lightly coated, not swimming in cream sauce.
- We often don’t add salt or black pepper in Step 9, preferring to do so at table (this dish rarely needs extra salt – the ham and cheese is plenty salt for our taste).
- Speaking of salt, we always use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty than regular table salt (the crystals are coarser, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using regular table salt, start with about half as much as we recommend. But always season to your taste, not ours.
- BTW, adding salt to the cooking water in Steps 1 and 4 helps season the asparagus and pasta.
- Can’t find decent asparagus in your market? Frozen peas work well in this dish. Different flavor, of course, but equally good with ham and cream.
- We like to use dried penne or ziti for this dish. But use any pasta shape you like – farfalle (bow-ties) also work well. You could even use a long-strand pasta if you prefer.
- Back in the day, we always used 4 ounces of dried pasta for a main-course serving. We just can’t eat as much these days, so we’ve cut that to 3 ounces. And we use about half that amount if serving pasta as a first course.
- You can use domestic Parmesan in this dish if you want, but imported Parmigiano Reggiano is readily available these days and tastes much better.
Using Our Noodles
“Great dish!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And a good way to use leftover ham.”
“Grazie,” I said. “Just noodled around in the kitchen, and this is what I came up with.”
“Ah, feeling a little saucy today, are we?” said Mrs K R. “Penne for your thoughts.”
“That joke is pasta due,” I said.
“Well,” said Mrs K R, “I’m just exploring all the pasta-bilities for laughs.”
Yup. And she’s tortellini awesome, isn’t she?
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Pasta Cacio e Pepe
Summer Pasta Salad
Asparagus with Savory Whipped Cream
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