Impromptu Pasta

May 4, 2010

Today, some weather complaining.

The high in Seattle today reached 52 degrees.  Tomorrow?  51 degrees.  Did you know it is May?  We didn’t.  We thought it was February.

Now, I grew up here so I shouldn’t be surprised.  This is spring weather in the great Northwest.  People always ask how we can stand the winter in Seattle.  So much rain!  But truthfully, winter isn’t all that bad.  The temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees and yes, it does rain, but it is really more of a drizzle.  We get less rain in inches than most of the major cities (even Miami!), we just get more days of it.  So a winter day with driving pouring rain is actually pretty unusual.  Misty somewhat cold days are more like it.  If you dress properly, you can still be outside and not suffer too much.  I run around a nearby lake through the worst of it and do just fine.  My kids’ preschool has them play outside every day.  I prefer that to having to scrape ice off my car every morning or worrying that my children will get frostbite.  (You people in San Diego and Arizona can just keep quiet.)

Spring is another story.  After a long misty dark winter, we really do need to see the sun.  We also need to warm up.  And sometimes that doesn’t happen until June.  Other times warmth and sun don’t come until July 5th, which is when Seattle’s summer starts.  In other words, some years there really is no spring – we just go from winter to summer.  And that is when it feels cruel to live here.  Looking out my window at gray skies and rain in January doesn’t bother me all that much because I know it is so much worse elsewhere.  Looking out my window at gray skies and rain in May, knowing it is better just about everywhere,  that is pretty depressing.

Not only is spring weather tardy around here, but spring produce is behind much of the country as well.  I have hoped to find local asparagus at our markets for the past few weeks and am still just seeing lots of greens and radishes.  Thank you California for sharing your asparagus bounty and not leaving us to wallow in our parsnips.

Last week my parents came over for dinner.  I hadn’t planned to cook but my mom brought over some mushrooms and asparagus that she wasn’t going to be able to use.  I was craving pasta so I improvised this dish.  It’s amazing what some asparagus and lots of fresh herbs can do for your mood.  I liked it so much I made it again tonight for our friends Deb and Jeff in honor of Meatless Monday (which is, of course, always meatless in this house).

One Year Ago:  Rhubarb Streusel Tart (so good!) and Bean Tostadas with Sofrito

Spaghettini with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon

Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

I used a spaghettini here which is like a cross between angel hair and spaghetti.  I think angel hair would be too thin and delicate for this dish, but spaghetti would be fine.  The first time I made this, I used freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  The second time I used Pecorino which I liked better but either is fine.

Olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 pound cremini or white mushrooms, or a combination, quartered
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1 pound asparagus, tough stalks trimmed, cut on the diagonal into 1″ pieces
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese, plus more for passing at the table
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound spaghettini or spaghetti

Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the shalltos and a large pinch of salt.  Sauté until starting to brown, about 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms.  Sprinkle in the fresh thyme and allow to cook, stirring very occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid, and about half of it has cooked off.  Add the asparagus and fresh tarragon and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is cooked through but not too soft.  Turn heat to low.  (At this point, the dish can be made a couple of hours ahead, but I would wait to add the asparagus until just before getting ready to start the pasta.  If it sits too long, it will lose its beautiful color.)

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the spaghettini and cook until al dente.  Using tongs, transfer the pasta directly to the asparagus/mushroom mixture along with about ½ cup of the cooking liquid and the cream.  Continuing to use the tongs, coat the noodles with the vegetables and the creamy sauce, adding more cooking liquid as necessary if it seems too dry.  Sprinkle in another pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and the Pecorino cheese and toss to incorporate.

Serve in wide soup bowls with additional Pecorino cheese.


  1. I think there’s something about eating good spring vegetables, even if the weather is completely ridiculous, that triggers some happy sensors in your brain. I can’t explain it either. But the first berries and asparagus of the season make me inexplicably happy.

    What a delicious pasta dish. I’m so glad it lifted your spirits.

    Comment by Joanne — May 4, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  2. I so want to come to your house for dinner, oh and it is dull and wet here too. Hope that cheers you up a little :)

    Comment by Jacqueline — May 4, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  3. Yum, simple and delicious! I love the tangle of pasta.

    Comment by Ashley — May 7, 2010 @ 5:27 am

  4. This looks great. I always wonder if it would be okay to substitute full fat milk for recipes that call for just a little bit of cream, which I end up buying and never using up. Any thoughts about substituting milk?

    Comment by Kelly — May 8, 2010 @ 1:42 am

  5. We love pasta dishes! I would love to try this using pasta made from Kamut Khorasan Wheat! It just has the best texture for a whole wheat as well as being so nutritious. I cannot wait to try this one – I love it!

    Comment by smilinggreenmom — May 9, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

  6. I always say that is almost always one of three temperatures here: 37, 42 or 53. Finally, it creeps up to 63, and the sun comes out, and the month begins with “Ju” so you bust out the sandals, even though your toes feel like icicles when you wear them. Then, that glorious day…the Seattle temp has a “7” for the first digit, and there is joy and rapture and backyard sunbathing. The truth is, and I’ve lived a lot of places, when that 70+, no humidity, bug-free weather finally arrives in the PNW, you just want to kiss the sky.

    Comment by Vicki Wilson — May 10, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

  7. PS Made this pasta for dinner…shallots cooked FAR quicker than 8 mins on my Viking range, and mushrooms got nicely browned w/o ever giving up any liquid…but you know what? It was crazy delicious. Amazingly saucy for such a small amount of cream, and the fresh herbs just gave it that bright kick. Yay for Dana Treat!

    Comment by Vicki Wilson — May 11, 2010 @ 5:38 am

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