Orecchiette. Asparagus. Ricotta. Lemon. Garlic. Herbs.
These were the makings for a really tasty pasta dish we enjoyed last week to officially welcome in spring. The days are growing longer and this was the first dish of the season I was actually able to photograph at dinner time. I was chasing the last of the day's light though and had no more than five minutes to spare before needing a flash. You might also notice that somebody made it home just in time to sneak a few bites as I finished photographing. ;-)
We make versions of this ricotta orecchiette throughout the year. This spring version is my favorite because of the asparagus coins and the fact that garlic and lemon zest melt into the olive oil making for a bright lemon-scented oil that permeates the entire dish. The asparagus is sautéed in the oil just until crisp tender, then ricotta, lemon juice, and some of the starchy pasta water are stirred in to make an extra creamy sauce. (Note, this pasta can easily be made dairy and vegan-free. See link below for a fantastic lemon-macadamia "ricotta" recipe.) Orecchiette is my favorite pasta to use because it's ear-like shape holds the sauce well and its size is proportional to the asparagus coins so everything fits nicely on the fork. (Yes, I think about how food fits on forks and spoons when deciding what ingredients to pair together and how to chop vegetables.)
I hope spring has sprung where you live and that you can make this dish soon to celebrate the brighter, sunnier, warmer days. And if you're heading into autumn in the Southern hemisphere, broccoli would be an equally delicious substitute for the asparagus.
Orecchiette with Asparagus, Ricotta, and Lemon
- 1 lb. (500 gr) orecchiette
- 1 mug of reserved pasta water
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large lemon
- 2-4 tsp. red chili flakes
- 1 small bunch (500 gr) asparagus
- 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
- 250 gr ricotta (or Lemon-Macadamia Ricotta for a dairy-free version)
- Freshly ground black pepper (be generous!)
- Handful of fresh herbs, chopped (dill, basil, mint, parsley, or a combination works well)
- Grating of parmesan (optional)
- Bring a large pot of pasta water to the boil. Salt water and drop pasta. Cook 1-2 minutes shy of package directions for al dente pasta. Don't forget to reserve a mug full of pasta water just before draining pasta!!
- In the meantime, heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add oil, garlic, zest from the entire lemon, and chili flakes. Sauté for a few minutes, until fragrant.
- Snap away woody stems of asparagus and cut stalks into coins. Add to skillet along with 1/4 tsp. salt. Sauté for 3 minutes, or until asparagus is crisp tender.
- Remove from heat. Stir in ricotta, juice from half the lemon, and a few splashes of pasta water to loosen the sauce. Add orecchiette, the remaining 1/4 tsp. of salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Add more pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. (I ended up using 3/4 of a standard mug size of pasta water). Taste, adjust for seasoning, adding more salt or lemon if desired.
- Serve immediately with a sprinkling of herbs and an optional grating of parmesan.
*If using the vegan lemon ricotta, you may not need all of the lemon juice called for in the recipe. Taste as you go.