Saucy Observations – Pasta agli Asparagi e Ricotta

As I have stated before, I am a big fan of pasta. Regardless of those trends of low-carbing, living like a cavewoman, and considering wheat a greater villain than Sherlock’s Moriarty, nothing stands between me and my bowl of pasta. Well, on second thought, this “piece of news” about myself may be somewhat obvious. Avoiding pasta whilst loving Italian food (and blogging about it ) would be kind of… pointless.

However, despite having made a reasonably impressive amount number of pastas to-date (impressive on a Finnish amateur scale that is – definitely not Italian), I still regularly struggle with the fine balance of pasta and its sauce. If there is too little of the sauce, a dish lacks flavour and can be a bit dry. On the other hand, if your pasta is of better quality, you do not want to overpower it by soaking it in the sauce or creating an unintentional macaroni soup.

It seems that Italian recipes do not often appreciate these struggles of a Finnish pasta lover who hasn’t had direct access to the culinary wisdom of nonnas. On the contrary. Recipes often lack precise quantities of oil and other ingredients leaving a Finnish cook with a feeling of participating in a pasta version of lottery.

Today’s pasta is partially a fine example of this phenomenon: In addition to the usual lack of the amount of olive oil, there is no advice on how to divide your ricotta into two portions (one is mixed directly with your pasta and the other added separately as part of an asparagus cream). However, fortunately¬† in this lottery case, you have slightly less to lose as you can adjust the amount of the asparagus cream while eating.

Prior to trying this recipe, I had already learned earlier that asparagus and ricotta work together wonderfully. And based on this dish, I can verify that they still definitely do!

Pasta with asparagus and ricotta

Serves 2

160 g pasta

500 g asparagus

200 g ricotta

1 onion

olive oil

salt, pepper

Clean the asparagus, remove their chalks and cook them in boiling water for some minutes (max ~5 minutes) until ready (soft enough for blending but not soggy and limp). After cooking, you can cool them with cold water or ice to prevent them from further cooking in their own heat.

Cut the tips of the asparagus and keep them for futher use. In a blender, mix the remaining parts of the asparagus with 100 g ricotta, some olive oil, salt and pepper until you have obtained a nice and smooth cream. If the cream is very thick (the target consistency is about the same as of the bechamel sauce), you can add a little bit of water.

Peel and chop the onion and gently fry it in a pan with some olive oil. Add the tips of the asparagus and let them gather flavour shortly.

Cook the pasta. Once ready, combine it with the onion and asparagus tips in the pan. Add 100 g ricotta and some cooking water of the pasta if needed. Mix well and let it warm up until creamy.

Put some asparagus ricotta cream onto each plate. Add the pasta with asparagus tips on top. Season with some additional pepper and serve.

Something Not Borrowed – Insalata Improvvisata

The idea of my blog is to learn about Italian cooking by testing recipes I have found from different sources. Yet in real life, I do come up with my own little recipes from time to time too. And since for this blog I have no manager to answer to, I can really post here whatever I like (at least until Cucina Fintastica becomes a supermega success with the amount of sponsors to challenge Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson combined). Who knows, you might even like it… At least I quite enjoyed this potato salad tonight!

So today’s dish has very little to do with Italy although a quick Google search tells me that there is a broad range of Italian recipes of potato salads available too. Maybe I will give them a try later. Anyway, I got the inspiration for this dish after buying new potatoes of this season and realising I had some leftover yoghurt and asparagus readily in my fridge. Obviously lemon is the BFF of asparagus but I also liked the creamy yet fresh twist of the yoghurt with it!

Potato Salad with Asparagus and Lemon

Serves 4

800 g potatoes

1 bunch of fresh asparagus

2-3 spring onions

3 dl Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp olive oil

zest of 1 lemon, grated

lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

fresh mint

salt, pepper

Clean the potatoes and cook them in salted, boiling water until ready. In another kettle, bring a sufficient amount of water to a boil, add some salt and lemon juice and the asparagus. Cook for a few minutes.

Mix the yoghurt with the lemon zest, a bit of lemon juice, honey, salt, mustard and olive oil. Cut the cooked potatoes and asparagus into chunks and chop the spring onions. Place them into a bowl, pour the yoghurt dressing onto them and mix well. Add fresh mint, salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with e.g. fresh salmon.

The Green Love – Lasagne agli Asparagi e Ricotta

There is one love that I believe to share with millions of others: fresh asparagus. I think this love is not only about the gorgeous flavour of the vegetable itself but also about the time of the year when it is in season. After months and months of cold and gloomy weather and winter tomatoes tasting like cardboard, the sun finally comes out and fresh European asparagus hits our local supermarkets. What else can you really ask for? Well, maybe apart from Benedict Cumberbatch (another love that I believe to share with millions of others) joining you to share this deliziose asparagus lasagne, that is.

As today is Easter Monday, I browsed the internet for some Italian Easter food. A lasagne with asparagus was one of the commonly proposed dishes. This version is a bit lighter than some others as there is no bechamel sauce included. I substituted the proposed prosciutto with some slices of smoked turkey and a few knobs of butter since I expected the turkey to be a bit drier than cured ham. Some of these lasagne recipes included smoked salmon instead of ham, and I am quite sure that this lasagne would work well with that too.

A proper Italian nonna would obviously also make the pasta by herself but since I am not one and was recovering from a bout of cold, I used these ready albeit quite nice lasagne sheets.

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This package also contained advice on a neat trick though which I hadn’t seen before: you can precook the sheets in boiling water for 8-10 minutes which reduces their required baking time in the oven. I did this and the dry sheets actually started to resemble fresh pasta. However, I didn’t quite yet master the art of keeping the sheets apart. Hence, the precooked sheets (stuck together and torn apart) did really resemble something that I would have made myself giving my lasagne a very authentic home-made look..!

Light Asparagus and Ricotta Lasagne

Serves 4-6

2 bunches of fresh asparagus

lasagne sheets (fresh or dried (~1 package))

500 g fresh ricotta cheese

grated cheese (e.g. parmesan)

prosciutto, cut into cubes

olive oil

nutmeg, salt, pepper

Clean the asparagus, remove their chalks and cook them in salted, boiling water until ready (~ 5 minutes). Put the cooked asparagus in a blender together with the ricotta cheese, mix well and season with olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Take a buttered lasagne dish and place the first layer of lasagne sheets in it. Add a layer of the asparagus followed by a layer of the prosciutto cubes. Repeat these steps several times (I made four layers). On top of your lasagne, add one more layer of the sheets and the grated cheese. Bake in the oven at 180C for 20-30 minutes if you are using dry but precooked lasagne sheets (30-40 minutes without precooking) or for 15 minutes if you are using fresh pasta.