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Pappardelle with Asparagus, Walnuts, and Speck

Updated February 23, 2016
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This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

If you find fresh fava beans at the market, they are great instead of or in addition to asparagus in this dish. We are not used to steaming vegetables; we boil them. If you are used to or prefer steaming, of course you could steam vegetables, like these asparagus, when we call for boiled.

It is boring and tedious to crack nuts, but we find that they’re so much better than the already shelled nuts, which often seem to be old and bitter.

“In Sicily, we eat only the tip of the asparagus. In fact, this is a sign of proper behavior. If you have a good education, the nuns teach you how to eat certain things. They show you which fork to use for eating specific foods. Then there is the drama that says you can use a spoon only when eating soup, not when eating anything else. Even if a pasta shape is miniscule, if it is not in a soup, you must find a way to eat it with a fork.”

–G.

Serves6

Cooking Methodpan-frying

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Mealdinner

Taste and Texturecreamy, nutty, rich

Type of Dishdry pasta

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 fresh sage leaves
  • ½ pound asparagus tips, cut in half and boiled until just tender
  • ½ pound mascarpone cheese
  • 2-4 tablespoons whole milk
  • ¼ pound walnuts, minced
  • 1/3 pound speck, cut into cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Soybean oil (or other mild-flavored oil) for the pasta water
  • ¾ pound pappardelle
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with a spoonful of water in a large frying pan over low heat. Add the sage and cook about 1 minute to flavor the butter. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and remove and discard the sage leaves.

Use a fork to mash the mascarpone with 2 tablespoons of the milk in a medium bowl. Add more milk if necessary to make a loose sauce. Stir in the walnuts and pour into the pan with the asparagus. Put the pan back on low heat, add the remaining butter, and cook until the condimento is creamy.

In a small frying pan, fry the speck for a few minutes until golden and slightly crispy. Add the fried speck to the pan with the mascarpone and asparagus. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a pasta bowl.

Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Stir in a small fistful of salt and a splash of oil. Add the pappardelle and cook, stirring often, until tender. Reserve a cupful of the pasta water and drain the pappardelle in a colander.

Quickly transfer the pappardelle to the pasta bowl. Mix the pasta with the condimento until it is coated, adding enough pasta water so the condimento is a nice, smooth consistency, coating the pappardelle. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately with more Parmesan on the table.

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