Casarecce with Asparagus and Peas
Tender pasta and a light, lemony sauce make this dish an easy way to eat your green veggies.
We’re at the halfway mark for spring, with the first day of summer not that far off in the distance. Having left the winter of our discontent for a new season that included life-saving vaccines for millions of people, I’m emerging from my isolation cocoon. More outdoor activities are again available—even if it’s simply visiting a park—and I feel like lightening up. You know that great song from The Wiz, “Brand New Day?” Anybody else find themselves singing that with some regularity?
Along those lines, I’ve tried to lighten up in the kitchen, too. Yes, the comforting casseroles, stews, and heavy soups from winter hit the target (and tipped the scales, I’m afraid), but it’s time for a change. Happily, Mother Nature is cooperating fully, as locally grown vegetables and fruit are starting to come into season. Next month, many farmers’ markets will be open for business, which make it easier to incorporate seasonal produce into our diets.
Which is why I am loving this recipe: Casarecce with Asparagus and Peas. There’s a lot of green veggies in this dish: asparagus, peas, spinach, and green onions. Fresh parsley provides the crowning touch. And instead of a heavy pasta sauce, it’s just lemon, olive oil, and a little bit of starchy pasta water.
For the final selling point: it’s quick to the table! So if you need to dash off before the sun goes down to walk the dog or catch an outdoor movie or concert, dinner at home will not be a problem. (The leftovers were good, too.)
To make this dish, you’ll need:
fresh baby spinach
fresh flat leaf parsley
zest and juice of one lemon
I used Casarecce (ka-sa-RAY-chee), a pasta that originated in Sicily, but you easily could swap out for orecchiette or any other that would hold a sauce well. What I liked about the Casarecce is its oblong shape with a ridge that runs down the middle. These pasta twists appear to be rolled up on themselves, making it easy to hold a light sauce like the one in this dish.
If you have lemon pepper in your pantry (and if you don’t, you really should buy some), swap that out for plain black pepper. It’s a subtle, but nice, finishing touch.
Because this recipe comes together so quickly (under 15 minutes), it’s important to have everything prepped before you start cooking. Start with the asparagus.
Wash the asparagus under a cold tap. The bottom of the spears are woody; hold a spear at each end and bend the bottom so it naturally snaps off the tough part. I like to trim off the bottom evenly, too. The head of the spear should be tight, not mushy. This is a personal preference thing, but I also peel the spears to help the cooking process along. And it looks better visually.
Peel the garlic before slicing. The paper-like outer skins should fall away easily while removing the clove. Some people gently bash the cloves with the flat side of a knife, but I try to cut off each end and then peel the remaining skin.
Always zest a lemon before juicing. Some cooks can squeeze a lemon half and catch seeds, but those slippery little buggers always get into my pans, so I prefer a juicer.
Your pasta water can be working up to the boil while prepping the vegetables. You’re going to drop the asparagus into the pan at about the same time the pasta goes in the pot. After that, this recipe flies by very quickly, leaving perfectly cooked pasta and crisp-tender vegetables.
The peas can be used frozen. I also run bagged greens, like the baby spinach, under running water to clean prior to use.
Finally, a brief word about parsley; don’t toss the stems. They are sweet and crunchy and completely delicious, so while your sauce is reducing in the pan, chop the parsley—stems and leaves—and toss the stems into your skillet. The leaves provide garnish at the end.
There is a variety of texture and flavor to this recipe. The pasta obviously has a satisfying chew (I mean, who doesn’t love a noodle), the asparagus retains some fresh crunch. The peas are sweet, and the lemon gives just enough acidity to the dish. Parmesan cheese and just a drizzle of olive oil at the end make the light, yet silky sauce.
All this for about 350 calories per serving. You can keep it a vegetarian dish or add grilled chicken or shrimp, but that also increases the calorie count, but it still would come in just around 500 calories.
Give this a try and let me know what you think! I’m going to bet you’ll agree this is a painless and delicious way to eat