Tuesday, March 07, 2023

A Saucy Pasta Dish for Asparagus Season

I hope that you love asparagus as much as I do. We have been getting some for a few weeks, but the asparagus coming into the market now are thicker and really fresh. I like them just steamed al dente, but tonight I updated a dish that Sweetie and I enjoyed first in 2013, so ten years ago at asparagus time.

By the way, Sweetie has been going through a tough time for the past three weeks or so. His back has bothered him on and off over the years, but a bout this long and this painful hasn't happened for about 20 years. He finally agreed last Friday to go the his primary care doctor...but saw the Physician's Assistant, who is quite good...and ended up with some muscle relaxants, pain pills, and a referral to a back doctor.

Those meds knocked him out, so he has been sleeping a lot, even during the day (which is unusual for him), but it has done the trick. Along with frequent chiropractor visits, the rest and meds have finally worked so that he didn't need any strong meds today at all...just an ibuprofen.

This dish was sort of a celebration for a better back because I remembered that every time I made the old version that Sweetie loved it. To update it I've added butternut squash 'zoodles', fairly thin strands of the squash that I found in Whole Foods today, already prepared although still raw.

In the original recipe you stew pieces of asparagus and broccoli in garlic and oil. These veggies go on top of pasta that has been dressed with an almost cream sauce made with ricotta cheese and some of the hot water used to cook the pasta. Today I used some fresh linguine and some Kite Hill almond milk 'ricotta'. Don't forget to use freshly grated nutmeg, if possible, in the sauce...makes all the difference!

The updated recipe calls for tossing the asparagus and broccoli pieces in the garlic and oil, then removing them. The butternut squash noodles are then tossed with the remaining oil and garlic and spread over the bottom of the pan. Because they take a little longer to cook than the asparagus pieces and broccoli florets, having the squash on the bottom of the pan allows it to have more heat.  Since it's all cooked covered over low heat, all the veggies cook slowly and become flavored with the garlic.

Of course while the veggies are cooking you boil the pasta and make the sauce with the ricotta. Once everything is done it gets tossed together and makes a really delicious side dish or meal. I would imagine that you could make it with just the squash noodles and broccoli when asparagus isn't in season, but I do love asparagus and it shines in this recipe.

Fettuccine with Ricotta and Asparagus, Broccoli and Butternut Squash

from the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
serves 4 - 6

3/4 lb tender young asparagus ( or 1/2 lb asparagus and 1/4 lb broccoli crown)
1/2 lb butternut squash 'noodles'
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 -4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb fettuccine
6 quarts water
1/2 lb fresh creamy ricotta 
dash nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim touch ends off asparagus after rinsing them. Cut tender parts into 2-inch lengths. Cut broccoli crown into small florets. If needed, cut the butternut squash 'noodles' into 6-8-inch lengths.

In a sauté pan place 3 tablespoon olive oil and the garlic; stir to blend. Add the asparagus pieces and toss to coat, then remove and reserve. Repeat with the broccoli florets. Finally, add the additional tablespoon of oil if needed and add the squash 'noodles'; toss to coat and then spread over the bottom of the pan. Arrange the coated asparagus pieces and broccoli florets over the squash (do not stir) and, over low heat and covered, gently stew the garlic, squash, asparagus and broccoli in the oil until the vegetables are tender but not brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally the last 5 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water until tender. While pasta cooks, extract 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and mix it in a small saucepan with the ricotta. Set saucepan over low heat and gently cream the ricotta and cooking water. When the ricotta is warm, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the nutmeg and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

Drain the cooked pasta and combine immediately with the cheese sauce, tossing to mix well. Add the veggie mixture and toss with tongs to lightly coat the vegies and mix them with the pasta. If desired, plate or a warm platter. Sprinkle with the rest of the grated cheese and serve at once.


  1. I'm always grateful to see good asparagus recipes as I cannot eat it (even the smell does me in) but Himself LOVES it, and I don't think he gets it enough. Do you like the zoodles? I wouldn't think they would stay stiff enough to use in pasta! I like the idea of plain veg for pasta alternatives, though.

    So sorry to hear about Sweetie's back! Such tiny muscles to kick up such a huge fuss, but back pain indeed can hold you hostage. I'm glad it's passing.

  2. I do like the butternut squash zoodles. I've made the zucchini ones and like them, but they are often watery. These butternut squash ones are not watery and they are sturdy, too. It took cooking them a while to get them tender enough to go with the pasta. They were still a bit stiffer than the pasta in the finished dish, but I do like my veggies to have some bite to them and not be mushy. My Dad liked his veggies cooked to death...we even called the green beans cooked that way 'dead beans' because they were not only limp but gray!
    I'll pass your good wishes along to Sweetie. He is even better today!!