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Fettuccine with Asparagus and Morels

Fresh morel mushrooms are a springtime delicacy. Their earthy perfume marries well with that of spring vegetables, especially asparagus. When buying morels, look for ones that have a fresh mushroom smell and feel heavy. Turn down any that are shriveled or, worse, mushy and waterlogged. To clean the many crevices, swish morels briefly in a bowl of water. Other flavorful mushrooms, such as chanterelles, shiitakes or portobellos, can be substituted.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb. asparagus
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for
      drizzling
  • 1 large, sweet white onion, such as Vidalia, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lb. fresh morel mushrooms, quartered
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • Leaves from 5 large fresh thyme sprigs, coarsely
      chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 lb. fresh fettuccine
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely
      chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

Trim off the tough stem ends from the asparagus spears. Using a vegetable peeler or an asparagus peeler, and starting about 2 inches below the tip, peel off the outer skin from each spear. Cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch pieces.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Using a large skimmer, transfer the asparagus to a colander, reserving the cooking water. Run cold water over the asparagus to preserve its bright green color and to stop the cooking. Drain the asparagus and set aside.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the 1/3 cup olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until soft and just starting to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, morels and asparagus, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the thyme and lemon juice and mix well.

Meanwhile, return the reserved asparagus-cooking water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 3 minutes. Drain well and add to the fry pan. Add the pine nuts and parsley and toss briefly to blend all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and add a drizzle of olive oil.

Transfer the pasta to a warmed large, shallow bowl and sprinkle about 3 Tbs. of the cheese over the top. Pass the remaining cheese at the table. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Pasta, by Erica De Mane (Simon & Schuster, 2001).