I always love when those first bunches of tender, slender asparagus show up in markets and grocery stores. For me, this first asparagus tastes like spring. I always overbuy and overindulge, because I know all too soon, the brawnier, cigar-thick, woody stalks will take its place. I overbought last weekend at Detroit’s Eastern Market, getting two big, beautiful bunches. Also overbought on lemons, from the same enterprising vendor. From there, this recipe practically wrote itself.
To complement – and perhaps temper – the brightness of the asparagus and lemon, Parmesan seemed like a good choice. And unlike the milder goat cheese which often shows up in such pasta dishes, it brings more assertive flavor to the party. Which begged for another big flavor – salty, crispy, umami-y bacon. For about a second, I considered prosciutto, which would have brought a more nuanced meaty quality to the dish. Instead, I opted for big flavors all around.
For as weeknight simple as it was to prepare, this pasta was also fun to eat. The flavors all worked together nicely, but not in a blend in, lose their identity kind of way. Instead, they jostled one another on the palate, vying for attention. “Taste me!” “No, taste me!” I happily tasted them all.
Fettuccine with Asparagus, Bacon and Lemon
Serves 2 generously
8 ounces slender asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 strips bacon
juice and zest of 1 lemon
fresh Parmesan, either shaved or grated
8 ounces uncooked pasta, such as fettuccine
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Before adding pasta, add asparagus and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cook pasta for a little less time than package directions call for, until almost al dente.
2. Meanwhile, lay the bacon in a large cold skillet. Set flame to medium and cook until just crisp, turning occasionally. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Empty bacon grease from skillet, but don’t wipe it clean. Turn off flame if pasta is still cooking. Crumble the bacon.
3. Drain pasta, reserving some cooking water. Heat pan again over medium flame, adding 2 tablespoons or so of olive oil to the pan. Add asparagus to the pan, tossing to coat with oil, then add pasta and bacon, season with pepper and toss everything together. If pasta seems dry, add some cooking water, starting with 1/4 cup or so, tossing to heat everything through and finish cooking pasta, about 1 minute or so. Turn off heat. Add lemon juice and zest, and toss to coat.
4. Plate pasta in individual shallow bowls. Top with some Parmesan. Don’t go crazy here – there are plenty of flavors going on. Serve.