Here's another great quick and easy weeknight dinner idea: penne pasta (smooth or ridged -- rigate) tossed with asparagus, some crisp, smoky pancetta (or bacon), and juicy cherry tomatoes.
For a vegetarian version: substitute the pancetta with some summer squash or zucchini, sliced into half-moons.
If you have leftover grilled vegetables from a BBQ or backyard cookout, use those instead! It's a great way to turn them into another meal!
For bolder flavor: finely mince the garlic clove instead of crushing it, and leave it in. Substitute the parsley with fresh basil leaves.
For a cold pasta salad version: rinse the pasta in cold water as soon as it's al dente, then drain and toss with the other ingredients. Using sun-dried tomatoes instead of fresh will help prevent the pasta salad from becoming soggy. For this version, definitely add a bit of olive oil when tossing the ingredients together, to prevent the pasta from sticking together in clumps, and I suggest using basil rather than parsley and using minced garlic that remains in the dish since dishes have less flavor when served cold.
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for serving)
- 1 clove garlic (peeled & crushed with the side of a knife)
- 1 pound asparagus (woody bottoms snapped off and discarded, the rest cut diagonally into approximately 2- to 3-inch pieces)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes (cut in half if larger than about 1/2 inch in diameter, otherwise whole)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup smoked pancetta (pancetta affumicata) or julienned bacon (cut into thin strips about 1-inch long)
- Optional: fresh parsley (finely chopped for garnish)
Set a large pot of water, covered, to boil over high heat for the pasta. (When the water comes to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt or Kosher salt and once the water returns to a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook just to al dente texture.)
Meanwhile, saute the garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet for about 1 minute over medium heat, then add the asparagus and tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.
Continue to saute over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, just until asparagus is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic clove.
Meanwhile, saute the pancetta or bacon in a separate pan until crisp, then drain on a paper-towel lined plate.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and return it to the pot. Add the asparagus-tomato mixture, the pancetta and the parsley (if using) and toss well.
Drizzle in a bit more extra-virgin olive oil, if desired, while tossing the ingredients together, then serve immediately.