My San Francisco Treat
This springy* pasta dish always makes me smile. First cause it’s delicious, secondly because it’s so quick and easy! It’s a simple dish – most of the ingredients are in the long title. Yet, it’s somehow so much more than the sum of it’s parts.
*Real talk, I wrote 90% of this post nearly 2 months ago for spring. LOL. While I’m always in the kitchen trying new things, posting has been a real struggle for me this season. There’s a lot going on – trying to live my best Covid life in a US epicenter, starting a new job (yay!) and now processing and responding to the unrest and discourse sparked by the latest videoed examples of egregious racial injustice in America. Phew. It’s tiring. I find cooking to be a great release and restoring when things feel like – just.. a lot. So let’s get to it!
I came up with this recipe over a decade ago after eating a similar pasta special at a restaurant, Il Fornaio, in the SF Bay peninsula. It was a work lunch and my first time having these flavors together. Blue cheese in a pasta sauce? How exotic. Young me was intrigued and it did not disappoint. I went home and gathered the ingredients to recreate it and was pleasantly surprised that my version was just as good! Facts.
Why It Works
There are nearly equal parts tender crisp asparagus and pasta which is a ratio I prefer for a respectable one dish meal (no decorative vegetables, please). The mild blue cheese combines with cream and sauteed garlic to form an instant flavorful and slightly piquant sauce. The lemon zest add a brightness that contrasts with the swirls of tender prosciutto added right before serving. It’s a pasta dream team that comes together in about 30 minutes.
Blue cheese is perfect in this dish because it easily melts and a little goes a long way. If you don’t like blue cheese or have any available, you could substitute some soft goat cheese
No prosciutto, no problem. You can leave it out completely, just add more salt to taste at the end. You can also use deli ham, speck or cubes of ham steak instead.
Penne pasta is a great and fun shape here, but rigatoni, or other medium sized dried pastas would be great. Heck, linguine or fettuccine would be fine as well. Work with what you have.
Blue Cheese, Asparagus & Prosciutto Pasta
This quick, veggie-filled pasta is one of my favorites. It’s a one-dish meal that packs a surprising amount of flavor with just a few of ingredients.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb fresh asparagus
- 4 oz prosciutto (about 5 or 6 slices)
- 1/2 cup (3 oz) crumbled mild blue cheese (ex. Gorgonzola dolce, danish, Maytag, buttermilk)
- ½ lb penne pasta
- ½ cup cream
- 2 cloves garlic
- fine salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- black pepper
- red pepper flakes (optional)
- cutting board
- measuring cup
- pot (for pasta)
- large saute pan
- colander or small strainer
- tongs or cooking spoon
- Bring some water to a boil in the pot and add a generous handful of salt. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the box’s recommended cooking time – not quite al dente. The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce.
- While the pasta water is heating, chop the woody ends off of the asparagus (usually the bottom 2 inches) and cut the remainder into penne-size pieces, about 2 inches long. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves. Zest the lemon. The hard work is done!!
- Heat the saute pan over medium heat and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the chopped asparagus and sprinkle on 1/4 tsp (generous pinch) of salt. Cook the asparagus for 4 minutes stirring occasionally then add the garlic and stir cooking for another 1-2 minutes until the garlic is tender and the asparagus is green and still a bit crisp (give one a try). At this point, if the pasta is not yet ready, you can turn off the heat and wait until it’s done.
- Once the pasta is done, strain it and add it to the saute pan. I used a strainer to scoop the pasta out of the pot directly into the saute pan, but you can also use a colander and strain the whole pot. Return the pan to medium heat if you turned it off.
- Add ½ cup of cream to the pan and stir in most of the crumbled blue cheese. Add a couple turns of black pepper and red pepper flakes if you like. Use the tongs or spoon to gently mix everything together. The blue cheese will melt into the cream to form a light sauce. Let the sauce come to a gentle simmer (small bubbles) for about 2 minutes then turn off the heat. Taste the sauce and add more salt if it’s needed. This will depend on how salty your cheese is. Next, stir in the lemon zest.
- FYI, if you add proscuitto to the saute pan, it will start to cook and lose it’s delicate texture. Top each serving of pasta with 1 piece of prosciutto (roughly tear it by hand) and a few crumbles of the remaining blue cheese. Enjoy!
You can reheat leftover pasta in the microwave and add a splash of cream once it’s hot to bring back the creamy texture. I suggest you store prosciutto separately and add it to the reheated pasta so it remains tender.