Spaghetti with asparagus garlic and fresh chili pepper

wild asparagus, a life changing experience

Foraging is all the rage nowadays, but Italians have never stopped these sort of primitive habits.
My father has never made a walk for the sake of it in his entire life. He actually drives to my aunt’s house  300 mt away.  For a bunch of wild asparagus however, at 77 he still challenges the Umbrian slopes and the occasional viper. Viper? If you thought we had a quiet life up in the Assisi hills, read my friend Rebecca’s story about picking wild asparagus.
Tasting wild asparagus is a life changing experience and per se enough of a motivation to come to Italy in the spring. These fragrant strips of green are in the league of foods for the gods, like truffle or aged balsamic.
As all things intensely aromatic they need minimal manipulation and condiments. If you don’t have wild asparagus, take thin green cultivated asparagus. Just remember that your asparagus should still be green when you eat them. Please don’t overcook them to brown sadness. In order to succeed with this very simple recipe you need really fresh asparagus, fruity extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan.

  • 100 gr /3 oz wild asparagus or 300 gr /10 oz cultivated ones, cleaned and washed
  • 1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped
  • 1 small chili pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons EVO oil
  • 2-3 tablespoon grated parmesan
  • 350 gr /12 oz spaghetti

a) If using cultivated asparagus grill them in a little olive oil, infuse with garlic and chop as explained for risotto . Transfer them in a pan large enough to hold all the pasta you are cooking.
b) If using wild asparagus cut them in 2 cm/ 1 inch long pieces. In the above large pan, saute the garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add the asparagus and cover with water. Increase heat to high and cook stirring occasionally, about 6 or 7 min. By the time the water has boiled away the asparagus will be soft but still bright green.
At this point you have garlic infused asparagus, add the sliced chili pepper, cover and reserve.
To cook and sauce the spaghetti to perfection, please follow this method carefully:
While the asparagus are cooking, bring a 5 liter/ 5 quart pan of water to the boil. Add two heaping tablespoons of salt and bring to the boil again. The water has to be plenty and as salty as the sea otherwise the pasta will be bland.
Cook good quality spaghetti according to package instructions until just al dente. Drain and reserve at least 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
Transfer the pasta in the pan which holds the asparagus and turn the heat on high. Stir quickly and when the sauce is blended into the pasta add the cheese and half of the reserved cooking water. Stir again. The hot water will melt the cheese and will bind the condiment  so that all the flavor will be absorbed into the pasta.Use more water if the pasta looks too dry. You can also add a couple of tablespoon of cream. Drizzle with one or two additional tablespoons of  olive oil.
Now run to the table and eat it immediately, wonderfully moist, fragrant and let me say it, beautiful.
Serves 3-4

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  1. Letizia, this was so delicious — I can’t wait to try this recipe at home (along with the eggplant recipe, so light and delicious!)
    I already miss you and your home so much! And keep a careful eye on Google, I worry that Philippe is going to sneak back and try to dog-nap her.

  2. Letizia, this sounds so good and I want some–this minute. Too bad by the time we are there no more spring asparagus. I’ll try this with the very poor substitute we have here. Silly question: what kind of red pepper do you use–we have so many varieties here–probably doesn’t matter, right?

    • Hi Jane, good to see you here! If you can buy fresh green asparagus and broil them as indicated in the recipe, you still get a nice plate of pasta. We don’t have so many types of chili peppers here. Ours are about 1/2 to 1 inch long and medium spicy. Using fresh chilis rather than dry is the thing to do, the lfavor is so much nicer!

  3. Dear Letzia, If wheat intolerant, what type of grain do you substitute now for wheat pasta? -Christina

    • Hi Christina, if you are “tested” what intolerant, e.g. with an IG elisa test, you will know quite accurately what you can eat. Some what intolerant people can eat kamut or spelt, but others don’t in which case you need to buy gluten free pasta such as corn or rice pasta or mixture of the two.

  4. Please post your recipe for pea,Almond and pesto sauce. We cooked one day with you this past fall and it was our favorite part of the meal. I am getting close to recreating it but am off just a bit.

    • Hi Kimberly, lovely to hear from you! The pea pesto recipe is a variation of the Fava bean and pesto one. I basically used blanched peas instead of the broadbeans and almond instead of pine nuts. You can substitute any green vegetables, for example diced zucchini to the beans. And please don’t forget some very good olive oil!

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