In keeping with our vow to eat less meat and experiment with a more plant-based diet, I was delighted to have found the bones of this recipe in Food and Wine. It’s pure vegetarian, a wonderful balance of textures and flavors with just a shot of heat and enough cream sauce to coat its every ingredient. Mushrooms are a traditional stand in for meat in vegetarian cooking. In this case, I used three varieties. Portobellos in big slices joined half caps of Shiitakes and quartered Creminis. This gave the dish not only a lot of great mushroom flavor, but also an undeniable ‘meatiness’. The crisp asparagus and the creamy pasta were perfect counter plays to the mushrooms. And then there’s that irresistible cream sauce with its bright hint of lemon.
Recently I was asked what ingredient inspired me most. It was a no-brainer. Pasta. As simple-minded as that sounds, I am forever inspired by this simple food. Durum wheat flour is mixed with water or eggs, formed into sheets or shapes and then cooked by boiling or baking. Astonishly, there are 310 specific shapes and varieties known by a staggering 1300 documented names. As an example, the pasta ‘Cavatelli’ is known by 28 different names. What it is called depends on what town you’re in or what region. The pasta I used for today’s recipe was ‘Capunti’ which is what Cavatelli is called in Apulia. It has a lovely description…”a short oval pasta resembling an open empty pea pod”. A version of Capunti is actually quite easy for the home cook to make. It doesn’t even require any pasta making machinery at all. It’s hand-rolled. Its name changes once again, wouldn’t you know, and becomes ‘Cecamariti’. ‘Cecamariti’ translates into ‘Husband Blinders’ but in this case, blinders means ‘dazzlers’. Your husband, in other words, will be dazzled by your prowess in pasta making. I’ve included the recipe for making your own. But I didn’t.
I was more dazzled by the Trader Joe’s version of Capunti which featured organic durum wheat flour that is ‘sourced from the Puglia region of Italy. It’s a lovely little shell that really does resemble an open empty pea pod. And that pea pod shape captures the flavors of the sauce beautifully. The pasta is cooked first and then added to the sauce and cooked some more to really capture its flavors. If you have decided to make the Cecamariti, this recipe will take 1 hour to make the pasta and a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes all told. You’ll also need fine Italian 00 flour. This can be found at Italian specialty food stores and on Amazon. If you use store-bought Capunti or Cavatelli, you can get this terrific meal on the table in about 30 minutes. Here is the recipe:
Pasta with Asparagus and Mushrooms
This rich vegetarian pasta not only has great flavor, it also features great complementary textures.
- For the pasta (If making)
- 1 3/4 cups (about 7 ounces) 00 flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ tbsp. Olive Oil
- For the sauce:
- ¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms--portobellos,shiitakes,creminis--, cut into slices, quarters and halves per variety
- Black pepper
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup grated Reggiano Parmigiano Cheese
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Step 1 To make the pasta: Place flour and 1 tablespoon salt in a food processor, pulse until combined
- Step 2 Beat egg yolks, whole egg, and 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl. Add egg mixture to food processor, and pulse until dough just comes together. Gradually add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if dough is too dry or doesn’t come together. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until very smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Cover dough with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Step 3 Pinch off a 1/2-inch piece of dough, and roll it between your hands to form a thin 2- to 3-inch-long rope. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Step 4 Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes for homemade, 10 minutes for store-bought. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Toss pasta with 1 teaspoon oil in a bowl to prevent sticking.
- Step 5 To make the sauce: Add remaining 1/4 cup oil to saucepan, and heat over medium-high. Add mushrooms to pan, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add asparagus and crushed red pepper, and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add wine, and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the pan, until liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes.
- Step 6 Add pasta, heavy cream, lemon juice, the cup of cheese and reserved 1/2 cup cooking liquid to pan. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, tossing, until pasta is lightly coated, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Transfer to shallow bowls, and serve immediately