Grind in a food processor:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
We've been relieved to see the spring landscape unfold this year. For some reason, winter felt particularly long and insipid, and just seeing the forest blush with tender green punctuated by the festive purple of the redbuds is like seeing a dear friend for the first time in months. An awakening of the best sort.
We're feeling our tastebuds reawaken as well. In spite of my recent cabbagey post, I think we're all ready to forgo the crucifers for a while and delve into fresher, more delicate vegetables, our tongues and tummies having tired of all those wonderful but sturdy storage vegetables.
Springtime food is some of my favorite, as it seems to bring on the most intriguing and bizarre produce. Spring vegetables thrive on the dregs of winter and those first, uncertain spring days. They all have a way of shooting up from the soil at just the right time, when we've had our fill of potatoes and winter squash and can't bear another beef stew.
There's curious and vibrant rhubarb, tart enough to blow the cobwebs out of your brain and the queen of many a pie. Sweet peas are another, pods suspended on tangled, tender vines, themselves good for eating. In this part of the world, there are ramps to be considered, and we at the Joy Kitchen believe the trade-off of smelling like them for a couple precious weeks in spring is well worth the pleasure of eating them. Morels also pop up this time of year with their bizarre, spongy honeycomb caps.
But really, as fond as I am of these delicacies, I can't deny that asparagus is the queen of springtime produce. This is as it should be, I suppose. Asparagus springs forth, lithe and nimble, to awaken our tastebuds from hibernation. Simply wave it over a little boiling water, and you have a side dish fit for almost any meal.
But asparagus is perfectly capable of being part of a main dish as well. It has a gentle but nonetheless assertive flavor that adds a distinctive "green" essence to dishes that sport it. I know you're thinking about stir fry, but put down that bottle of soy sauce! No need to be so heavy-handed with asparagus.
This is why we love it in this simple pasta dish. It provides just enough vegetal clarity to bring all that starch alive. We prefer spinach fettuccine for this particular dish, but you can use the plain kind instead and be no worse for wear. We also like to serve this dish with lemon wedges as a healthy spurt of acidity brightens all the flavors.
Bring to a rolling boil in a large pot:
4 to 6 quarts water
2 tablespoons salt
Add and cook until tender but firm, 1 to 4 minutes, depending on their thickness:
1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Scoop out the asparagus with a sieve and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Add to the boiling water and cook until tender but firm:
1 pound spinach fettuccine
Meanwhile, melt in a large skillet over medium heat:
3 tablespoons butter
Add the asparagus and cook, stirring, just to coat with butter, about 1 minute. Stir in and heat through:
1 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet, along with:
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips, or cooked fresh salmon, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons capers, drained
Salt and black pepper to taste
Toss to combine. Serve with: