Saturday, April 4, 2015
One afternoon last week, I spent over three hours trying to drive four miles to pick up Cal from an after-school activity. It was the worst traffic I’d ever been in or even heard of in all my forty-something years. I’ll probably tell my grandchildren about it someday. I sat for something like an hour and a half without moving an inch; the situation became like a surly block party at which someone forgot to bring the beer. The sun shone. People chatted leaning out car windows. A bus driver walked around giving updates as he heard from his dispatch office. I was listening to a terrific audio book; I had snacks with me; miraculously, I didn’t need to use the restroom (probably because of the salt in the snacks). And I knew Cal was OK – he called me from the cell phone of a teacher, who had to stay waaaaay past when the school was closed – so I didn’t panic. (I will be forever indebted to you, Rachel.) After an hour, I called Alexi and asked him try another route to get to Cal. Abbott went with him, doing homework and eating pretzels instead of dinner. Ultimately, they got close enough such that it was clear they would get to the school first. I turned around.
Earlier that day, I made my first-ever batch of ricotta with a recipe from my friend Molly’s book, Delancey, because I forgot to buy some that morning when I was at the grocery store. I was planning to toss it with pasta and asparagus for our dinner. The ricotta ingredients – whole milk, buttermilk and cream – cooked while I unloaded the dishwasher, pausing occasionally to stir, and then I let the whey drain out of the curds while I walked Nelly. I still can’t believe I’d never made it before; I don’t understand how, but it was so much more than the sum of its parts. So much more. And it could not have been easier. I put water on to boil as soon as I walked through the door after that epic commute, and by the time Alexi and the boys made it back I had almost finished making dinner. As one of the authors of the recipe put it, “The result is a beautiful milky pasta sauce that’s velvety and luscious and sets off the grassy sweet flavor of the asparagus.” We feasted as we told our stories from when the afternoon unfolded into evening.
Pasta with Asparagus and Ricotta
Adapted from Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian
By Andrew Feinberg, Francine Stephens and Melissa Clark
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound short, tube-shaped pasta
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
½ pound fresh ricotta
Slice the asparagus lengthwise in half, and then cut the sliced stems crosswise into 1 ½ inch pieces.
In a very large skillet or Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and salt and cook until the asparagus begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Continue cooking until the asparagus is golden all over, about 2 minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons water to the pan. Remove from the heat.
In a large pot of well-salted boiling water, cook the pasta until 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.
Toss the pasta into the skillet with the asparagus, the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons butter, and the pepper. Cook over medium heat until the pasta is al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste. Add the ricotta to the skillet, stirring it into the pasta and asparagus mixture. Divide between four plates, and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings