When I came home with asparagus this weekend, my idea was to use about half of it on a simple recipe from Mini Moosewood (as we call the indispensable Moosewood Cooks at Home) that sounds rather odd but really is quite nice. I trimmed the thick ends from about half a pound (they were so tender that I did not have to trim much) and steamed them for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I fried four local, fresh eggs over-easy in one of our indispensable cast-iron skillets, with plenty of black pepper. I then divided the asparagus between two plates, carefully topped with the eggs, and sprinkled freshly-grated parmesan cheese on top. This is quick, light, balanced and delicious.
This left open the obvious question of what to do with the rest of the asparagus, and Pam suggested an old stand-by that combines asparagus, penne or ziti (does anyone know the difference) and chicken. Since we happened to have one chicken breast also left over from weekend cooking -- and the ancillary ingredients of fresh thyme and a couple of scallions -- this was the obvious choice.
As with any couple who cooks, we each have recipes we consider our own. "Would you like to have ______?" is synonymous with "I will cook" or "Could you cook?" -- depending on what is in the blank. In this case, though, Macaroni with Chicken and Asparagus from 365 Ways to Cook Pasta (see all of our entries that reference this book) did not have that effect. For a while it was such a standard with us that we each thought of this dish as our own.
I did volunteer to prepare it, while Pam took the lead in readying our outdoor dining space -- it was a beautiful evening for enjoying our yard -- with plenty of citronella going, that is.
It has taken me longer to write this preamble than it did to cook the dish. If you are still reading, here are the simple instructions, modified slightly from the book.
1. Start boiling water in a large pot, with a little olive oil.
2. Heat 2 T oil in skillet -- I used Lebherz lemon-infused oil, but ordinary oil will do. Cut asparagus into two-inch pieces, slice scallions thinly, and stir-fry at medium-high heat for two minutes.
3. Put about one pound of penne or ziti into the water.
4. Add one chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces. Cook until browned, adding a little salt, a lot of black pepper, and plenty of fresh or dry thyme as it cooks.
5. Meanwhile, grate enough parmesan to make you happy. I included some Cabot's very sharp cheddar as well.
When the pasta is done, drain it and toss with just a dab more oil and the cheese. Separate some for any vegetarian diners (as I did for our wonderful daughter) and then add the chicken mixture.
Serve with fresh bread and very cold Chardonnay.
PS: Why the reference to hymns? The 365 Pasta book does include 365 recipes, most of them quite distinct, some of them crossing over pages, others grouped on pages. They are numbered just like the hymns of a hymnal. For the two decades we have had the book, however, the index has been a mild annoyance, as it references the otherwise pointless page numbers, instead of the recipe -- or "hymn" -- numbers used in the rest of the book.