If you give an Italian American a bowl of pasta, he will want for nothing more.
Years ago my mother made a Cooking Light Recipe that involved pasta (bowties or spirals), asparagus, lemon & pancetta. I added a few ingredients to the dish over the years, but, like many recipes, we just stopped making it after the change of seasons. Then, my sister-in-law recently raved about a dish that sounded just like the one my mother used to make, this time by the Barefoot Contessa. When my husband and I came home from an eight hour car ride and were deciding on “what to do” for dinner, we came to a simple conclusion: try to recreate the pasta dish from years ago!
Orecchiette with Asparagus, Pancetta & Lemon
1 box orecchiette (or other small to medium shaped pasta)
1 bunch asparagus, rough ends removed, tender parts cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 oz pancetta, finely chopped
10 oz baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, juiced
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orecchiette to boiling water. Set timer for 4 minutes less than the box instructs to cook the pasta ‘al dente.’ (For example, the De Cecco brand of Orecchiette says to cook the pasta for 11 minutes. I set my timer for 7 minutes.) When the timer goes off, add the asparagus and stir. Continue boiling, 3-4 minutes longer. Drain, reserving up to 1/2 c. of the starchy pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Once hot, add pancetta and sauce until sizzling and starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove pancetta to a large serving bowl for the pasta. Add a little more olive oil to the pancetta drippings in the pan if needed and return to medium heat. Add mushrooms to the pan with sea salt & pepper to taste. Sauté 5-6 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.
Combine the orecchiette, asparagus spears, pancetta, mushrooms, garlic and juice of 2 lemons in a very large bowl. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil, as needed. Add reserved pasta water if pasta seems too dry. Stir in Romano cheese, beginning with 1/4 cup. Taste pasta and add freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste. (Be very careful that you do not add too much salt!)
Serve with freshly grated Romano cheese.