Monday, June 18, 2012

Creamy Asparagus Penne

You know it's hot when your eyelids start sweating.  Everything's sort of in a haze.  Even the flies know better than to attempt productivity.  And you just know that if you try to turn on the oven, the result will be instant vaporization.  Not that it matters--can you think of anything less appetizing on a hot summer day than chicken pot pie?  Nope.  Meatloaf?  I can almost feel myself melting.

Well, this creamy pasta recipe still requires the use of the stovetop, but it's the best I can do.  I'm still not ready to get out the crock pot after my last attempt.  And this is light and fresh and springy.  (Hopefully it's not too late to find some decent asparagus out there.)  Pair this with a nice salad or side dish for a cool summer meal, or toss in some cooked chicken or crumbled bacon to beef it up a little.  You could also stir in a cup or two of chopped fresh spinach for extra flavor.

I originally made this recipe as found here, but I decided the lemon was a little too strong.  What follows is my version, with some optional add-ins.  I'm still learning how to make cream sauces, so if you have a better recipe, feel free to use it instead (and don't forget to send it my way!).

Creamy Asparagus Penne
Serves 4
Time:  30-35 minutes

8 ounces penne (I used whole-wheat)
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
4 tsp. whole-grain mustard
4 tsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
3 T. minced garlic (3-4 large cloves)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups chopped fresh spinach (optional)
1 cup chopped cooked chicken OR 1/4 cup chopped cooked bacon (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook for 3 minutes less than the package directions.  Add asparagus and continue cooking until pasta and asparagus are just tender, 3 minutes more.  Drain and return to pot.

Meanwhile, whisk milk, mustard, flour, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  Heat oil and garlic together in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the milk mixture.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until thickened, 1-2 minutes.

Stir sauce into pasta and asparagus.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick, creamy, and coats and pasta, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Toss with spinach and chicken or bacon, if desired.  Sprinkle individual portions with remaining Parmesan.

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