With the last bundle of pretty nice asparagus spears that I bought, I made Spring Vegetable Tabbouleh but had plenty left to make something else, so I fell back on an old favorite, a sautéed asparagus with a balsamic-tarragon vinaigrette from Cooking Light magazine. My patio herb garden is going strong (I wanted to post some photos of that, but it’s been raining every day since I planted) and I had plenty of tarragon. I didn’t want a side dish, however, so I increased the volume of the sauce and made it a pasta dish.
The sauce for this dish, which is mostly reduced balsamic vinegar and some sugar, is a bit sweet, but somehow the asparagus seems to soak up some vinegar before the vinegar reduces in volume and increases in sweetness, maintaining a bit of a tart quality that is a nice contrast. If you find the sauce too sweet (or think you will upon reviewing the recipe), just reduce the amount of sugar.
The Pernod (or other anise liqueur) is optional in this dish. It simply bumps up the anise flavor contributed by the fresh tarragon. It would not be necessary to buy a bottle just for the 1 tablespoon I included in this recipe. If you happen to have some around, however, I think it adds some character to the sauce. If you don’t groove on bacon (I’m having a hard time refraining from commenting, since I strongly respect a vegetarian lifestyle…I also, however, have strong feelings for bacon) you can leave that out of the dish as well and it will be entirely vegetarian. Just replace the bacon drippings with olive oil.
I’m a bit squeamish about making recommendations, especially for something that costs more than a pack of gum, but I had a very nice wine with this that I think really made the meal. I’m not a big drinker of alcohol, but I’ll have a bit of wine if I think it will compliment a dish at dinner. With this one, I tried Gazela Vinho Verde (2008), and thought it was magnificent. Vinho Verdes are young Portugese white wines that are quite inexpensive. The Gazela was tart rather than dry and a little fizzy, which really cut through and complimented the sweet sauce. I hope you can find it and give it a try.
Asparagus and Pasta with Balsamic-Tarragon Sauce and Bacon
To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how much asparagus I had left to use in this recipe. The moral of the story is, use what you have and it will still be good (simply because it will still be asparagus!)
3 strips thick-cut bacon
8 ounces bow-tie or other short pasta
½ cup thinly sliced onion
1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Pernod (or other anise-flavored liqueur), optional
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup toasted chopped pecans
1. Cook the bacon in a frying pan until crisp. Remove and drain the bacon, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings (“drippings” is such a nice word for salty liquid pork fat).
2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is done as you like it. (I like “al dente.”) Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
3. Heat the reserved bacon drippings in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for 4 minutes, or until the onion starts to brown. Add the asparagus and sauté 2 mintues, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cook several minutes until the vinegar has reduced by about half and has become slightly thicker and syrupy.
5. Add the Pernod and tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste (I used about ¼ tsp of each). Add the pasta and some of the reserved cooking water. Toss well. Crumble the bacon into the pan and stir it in. Garnish each serving with pecans.
Makes about 4 servings
* Community Supported Agriculture. The one to which I subscribe is here.