Every now and then I crave a dish I tasted in Italy. When the weather turns a bit warmer and fresh herbs and asparagus show up at the market, I make this pasta lightly coated with a silky citrus cream. I've added some thin asparagus and sauteed shrimp to the simple mascarpone lemon sauce to give it my own personal flourish. A sprinkling of fresh tarragon and Italian parsley brings welcome color, and the lemony marinade adds extra depth of flavor to the shrimp. All I can say is my husband and I cannot stop eating this dish; it's that good.
This recipe looks a bit long, but if you do what I do, and have all the ingredients chopped and measured out, it only takes a few minutes. I like this sauce because it subtly flavors the pasta and is a fine complement to the shrimp and asparagus. I use mascarpone cheese instead of creme fraiche or whipping cream, because it gives the sauce a creamy, slightly thick texture with a faint cheese flavor. An extra bonus is that it clings beautifully to the pasta with the asparagus and leeks. You could use fresh pasta if you prefer, but I like it with dried De Cecco linguine because the al dente pasta can stand up to the sauce.
This is a perfect Sunday brunch, lunch or a light dinner. You can serve it in individual pasta bowls or family style in its pan right on the table. Either way, you'll have a pretty presentation.
Linguine with Asparagus, Lemon Cream and Sauteed Shrimp
Serves 4 to 6 for a main course
For the marinade:
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp, cleaned and shelled
For the pasta:
5 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and finely chopped
1 1/4 pound pencil thin asparagus, cleaned, ends cut off and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium garlic cloves minced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
Zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup lemon juice
8 ounces mascarpone, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 pound dried spaghetti or linguine
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl combine the marinade ingredients. Add the shrimp, and turn to coat them so they are evenly covered. Cover and refrigerate up to two hours ahead of sauteing.
2. In a large saute pan (large enough to hold the pasta), heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat, and saute the leeks for 5 to 6 minutes, or until soft and golden brown. Add the asparagus, and saute for 3 minutes, or until the asparagus begin to soften. Add the garlic, and saute another minute. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the chicken stock. Cook until the asparagus is just cooked through and still bright green, about 3 more minutes.
3. Lower heat and add the lemon zest, juice, mascarpone and salt and pepper, and stir until mascarpone mixture because sauce-like. Add the red pepper flakes, tarragon, chives and parsley, mix to combine, and set aside off the heat. Taste for seasoning.
4. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package (about 9 minutes) until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain pasta. Transfer pasta to the saute pan with the sauce and using tongs, combine the pasta until completely coated. Taste for seasoning.
5. While the pasta is cooking, in a skillet large enough to fit the shrimp, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the shrimp. Saute on each side until lightly the shrimp turns bright pink and just cooked through, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.
6. Arrange pasta equally in shallow pasta bowls and garnish with the shrimp and chives. Serve immediately.
Advance Preparation: This can be made through Step 3 up to two hours ahead, covered and kept at room temperature. While the pasta is cooking, saute the shrimp.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)
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