Penne with Mint and Asparagus

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Here’s a perfect one-pot dish. It’s cheap, tasty, and perfect for folks in a vacation rental with minimal equipment or a two-burner “corner kitchen”.

For two non-Italian people who are willing to commit the sin of considering pasta a main course, you’ll need to have on hand and waiting for you:

  • A big pot full of fresh water
  • A big knife (it doesn’t even have to be sharp) — or a garlic press
  • A half pound or quarter kilo of penne pasta
  • good olive oil
  • a handful of mint, roughly chopped
  • a toe of garlic, peeled
  • salt (preferably the large-grain variety for the pasta water)
  • freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese

If you’re lucky enough to be in Italy, you’ll have access to much less expensive grating cheeses despite their pedigree. If you’re in America and are thinking of using the crap cheese in the green cylinder, use the big knife to whack yourself on the knuckles and discontinue reading this page. It’s awful stuff. If you like it, just substitute more salt. You won’t be able to tell the diff and you’ll save some money.

Get the pasta water going until it’s at a frothing boil. Add the pasta. When it comes back to the boil, add a palm full of salt. Yes, those recipes that tell you to add a teaspoon of salt to 5 gallons of water should be burned in a public square along with the recipe tester. The water should be salted until it’s like the sea, preferably around Naples. Preferably drawn in the 18th century.

Chop the asparagus into lengths that are similar to the penne and throw them into the pot. If you want to get all gourmetish about it, save the tender ends and throw them in at the last minute, when the pasta is just short of becoming al dente.

Press the garlic or whack it a substantial number of times with the knife until it becomes a paste that ruins your wooden cutting board.

When the pasta is done the asparagus should be plenty done. Drain the whole pot and return the ingredients to it.

Off the heat, drizzle a substantial amount of olive oil into the pot, add the garlic, the chopped mint, then add some salt if you want and stir like the devil. I want the salt because without it the mint tends to taste like spinach.

Plate it up, or, um, bowl it up and dust it with the sweet shavings of your pecorino. You’re done.

pasta with asparagus picture

(Do Europeans enjoy asparagus? Why, they go nuts over it every spring: Celebrating Asparagus)

Penne with Mint and Asparagus originally appeared on JustGoItaly.com Mar 19, 2015, © James Martin.

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