Saturday, June 1, 2013

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Asparagus at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market

In the early days of this blog, I wrote about doing a riff on an asparagus and pasta recipe from the Everyday Food show on PBS. I didn't post a full recipe, but linked to the recipe on the show's web site. The show and its monthly magazine are long gone, and the recipe is now folded into the database for the larger Martha Stewart empire.

It's still a favorite of mine, although I usually make one of my variations rather than following it to the letter. The primary variation is what I demonstrated yesterday at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market. The market is held every Friday and has a small -- but high-quality -- group of produce and food vendors, as well as a cafe run by a rotating list of local restaurants. There's live music and one or two cooking demonstrations offered by volunteers like me, using produce available that day from the market.

Because asparagus is still abundant right now, and summer produce is just barely a trickle, I decided to revisit this dish. It was a big hit with those who sampled it, and I really enjoyed the conversations with the attendees, not only about this recipe, but asparagus, cooking, and the market. I look forward to my next demo, slated tentatively for the last Friday in June.

As I described in the demo, one of the beauties of this recipe is its flexibility. For example, the original recipe was for a warm pasta dish. I converted it to one that I serve room temperature or chilled. If you think of the recipe as a formula, rather than a set of instructions set in stone, you can vary it depending on what you have on hand, seasonality, and preference. First the recipe as I made it yesterday, then the variation possibilities.

(If you'd like to see the original recipe, it's here:

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Asparagus

adapted from Everyday Food

12 ounces cavatappi or other short pasta
2 bunches medium asparagus
2 to 3 green onions
1 small log soft goat cheese (5 ounces) crumbled
3 tablespoons good-quality mayonnaise*
Lemon juice to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions, or to desired doneness (I usually cook it a few minutes beyond what is specified on the package, but not to the point of mushiness). Meanwhile, thoroughly wash the asparagus and remove the tough ends. Cut the asparagus on a diagonal into 2-inch chunks. Wash and trim the green onions and slice on a diagonal into 1/8-inch slices, including both the white and tender green parts.

When the pasta is within 3 to 4 minutes of being done, add the asparagus. At the end of the cooking period set aside 1 1/2 cups pasta water, then drain pasta and asparagus. Rinse the pasta and asparagus thoroughly with cold water to cool it. Return the pasta and asparagus to the cooking pot, away from the heat.

In a medium bowl, combine goat cheese and 1/2 cup pasta water. Season with black pepper, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in mayonnaise and lemon juice, if using. Add goat cheese mixture, green onions, and parsley to pasta and asparagus; toss to combine. Add more pasta water if necessary for dressing to coat pasta. Taste and adjust salt and other seasoning if needed. Serve room temperature or chilled. Refrigerate leftovers.

Serves 4 as an entree or 8 as a side dish

*You can use regular or reduced-fat. As for brands, I'm a Kraft girl. #mayogate

Variation: For a warm pasta dish, do not rinse the pasta and asparagus after cooking. Substitute softened butter for the mayonnaise. Omit the lemon juice. Add the dressing and serve while the pasta is still hot.

You can also consider these substitutions:

pasta cavatappi penne, rotini, gemelli
(see note below)
vegetable asparagus broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower (use spinach pasta for color contrast)
mild onion green onions shallots, leeks, chives
soft cheese goat cheese feta, blue cheese (use less)
binder mayonnaise sour cream, plain greek yogurt
fresh herb parsley thyme, tarragon (use less)

A Note About the Pasta & Asparagus: 

The use of cavatappi with 2" chunks of medium asparagus works well because the size of the two are proportionate. It would work as well with penne. Rotini would stand up to slightly thicker asparagus. If you want to use gemelli, I'd choose thin asparagus spears. If you have nice fat spears, use the cavatappi, penne, or rotini, and cut on a sharp diagonal to reduce the width a bit. (Be sure to peel those fat spears if the bottom portions are a bit tough.)

What if you want to use a vegetable that's more round?  I've made this with the cavatappi and small-cut broccoli and it's fine. You could, however, turn to a rounder pasta shape such as medium shells in that case. I think that medium shells and brussels sprouts that have been separated into individual leaves would work well.

There are a number of possibilities, but just keep the shapes and proportions in mind when making your selections.

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