Even though I love snow in Winter, it's a difficult time for really excellent produce and February is always when I really start to get impatient. I'm so looking forward to the bounty of Spring and the smell of tender ramps at the Farmer's Markets in NY. Asparagus is one of my most eagerly awaited vegetables and I really empathize with the Germans and their Spargelfests each year. While the asparagus in February still isn't grown on farms (it's cultivated) and isn't in peak, it's actually quite good if you roast it. So, in my impatience I created this pasta one recent winter night and while it doesn't remind you of warm sunny days it definitely fills the need for healthy and delicious vegetables in tune with the season. Here's my "Spinach Linguine with Roasted Squash and Asparagus".
It is a really simple dish to make and picking out the best pasta and vegetables is the first step to success. The second is making sure you roast the vegetables to a deep just-shy-of-charred texture to develop maximum flavor and use liberal amounts of salt and pepper to properly season them. Use a good healthy three-finger pinch on the kosher salt each time, not a dainty thumb-forefinger pinch.
The orange liqueur is fantastic for the flavor and complementary taste to the asparagus and squash (they both really like orange) and the mushrooms (they really like cognac and brandy) but if you don't have it try substituting orange or tangerine juice. Fresh pasta, not dried, is also a large component of the dish and really needed for its textural softness and tenderness. You can find it at many gourmet stores in most places.
Here's my recipe, give it a try while it's still cold outside!
1 1/2 c. winter squash, peeled and diced (kabocha or acorn are great choices)
2 c. fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into one-inch pieces
3-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 c. fresh mushrooms, diced
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 lb. fresh spinach linguine
1/4 c. orange liqueur/Cointreau
1/4 c. heavy cream
grated pecorino romano cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Spread the squash and the asparagus into an even layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with about 2 T. of olive oil, 4-5 hefty pinches of kosher salt and 10-12 cranks of black pepper from a mill. Place in the oven and roast until vegetables are soft, lightly browned and charred on the edges, about 30-35 minutes. Remove and set aside when done roasting.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the fresh pasta. Heat a skillet over high heat and add 1 T. olive oil. Saute the mushrooms and shallots until tender and mushrooms have a deep, dark brown color. Add the thyme and season with kosher salt and pepper. When mushrooms are cooked thoroughly, add the Cointreau or orange juice to deglaze the pan.
3. The last few minutes mushrooms are cooking add the pasta to the boiling pot of water with a handful of kosher salt. Boil the pasta about 2-3 minutes, just until it floats to the top and is tender. Drain the pasta and reserve some of the pasta cooking water.
4. Add the pasta to the vegetables and toss gently with tongs. Pour in the cream and two ladles of pasta cooking water. Toss gently until the creamy sauce is evenly distributed. Add the grated pecornio romano cheese and serve immediately.