Week Night Yum Yum: Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus, and Spinach

Monday, April 18, 2011

I made this pasta dish on the fly yesterday using ingredients I had on hand in the fridge. With spring time now firmly in force, I always have asparagus around. They are wonderfully versatile and literally go with every protein and meal of the day. A constant staple for me is also bacon or pancetta, with a slight preference for bacon. It's smoked, it's juicy, it's perfection and makes anything instantly better. I also have spaghetti -- the kids' favorite kind of pasta -- always on hand, and some kind of cheese. Here I used some left over boccolini -- mini buffalo mozzarella balls -- that were sitting in the fridge begging to be used. The result, to quote Little Girl: "Mama, this pasta is perfect."

And it was.

It will take you 15 minutes, start to finish, and really is the perfect spring pasta dish. Enjoy it!

Spaghetti with Bacon, Asparagus, and Spinach
1 lb spaghetti (recommend: De Cecco brand)
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1" long pieces
4-6 slices of bacon, chopped small
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh baby spinach, washed
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
finely grated romano cheese for garnish

Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Once boiling, add a good handful of salt, then add your pasta. Cook according to package directions, usually around 10-12 minutes for perfect al dente (depending on the size of your spaghetti).

While the pasta comes to a boil, prepare your sauce. Heat a large heavy saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon -- no oil is necessary because the bacon will render its own fat instantly -- and cook bacon until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside for later. Pour out the bacon fat and either reserve for later use or discard. Return the pan back to the stove and place on medium heat. Add the olive oil and the onions. Season the onions with a small pinch of salt -- remember the bacon is salty and would have rendered it's saltiness in the pan already -- and pepper, and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring often so garlic doesn't burn. You'll notice the bacon had left some "brown bits" in the bottom of the pan from when you sauteed it. This is flavor! Take about 1/4 cup of the pasta water (eyeball it -- doesn't have to be exactly 1/4 cup) and add it to the onion and garlic mixture. Using your wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits. You'll find the pasta water will help loosen them from the pan.

The last 5 minutes of the pasta cooking add your asparagus straight into the same pot as the spaghetti. Since it's being tossed together anyway, it doesn't matter if they all cook together and in fact makes an easier clean up! Drain the spaghetti and asparagus together, then add them directly into the onion-garlic saute pan. Add the spinach and bacon and toss, coating the noodles with the sauce and helping the spinach wilt. Turn off heat. Add the basil, boccolini and romano cheese to taste and serve immediately.

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