Penne agli asparagi e pistacchi (Pistachio and Asparagus Penne)
The Nebrodi Mountain farmers are famous for their Sicilian black pigs, hazelnuts and pistachios, among other things. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a wonderful meal in a lovely mountainside restaurant near Bronte, where I sampled three pasta dishes with pistachios as a key ingredient, then finished the meal with a pistachio cake and pistachio ice cream.
You might think it strange to sprinkle dried breadcrumbs over pasta, but they were used in Sicily as the poor man's Parmesan. Nowadays, they are firmly part of the food culture and work really well. I always feel that I have to explain that to my guests when serving the breadcrumbs and no Parmesan, just in case they think I'm being downright mean! Serves four.
You will need
Extra virgin olive oil
350g asparagus, cut into 2cm pieces
100g pancetta, diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsps chopped thyme
2 garlic cloves, chopped
30g black olives, pitted and halved
50g pistachio nuts, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the breadcrumbs until brown. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
2 Blanch the asparagus in simmering water for about two minutes, depending on the thickness of the stems, until just al dente. Drain and refresh in ice-cold water to retain the colour.
3 Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then cook the pancetta, red pepper and thyme for two minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the asparagus and cook over a high heat for two minutes. Pour in the cream and warm through. Drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce.
4 Divide the pasta between serving plates. Sprinkle with the olives, chopped pistachio nuts and breadcrumbs. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as required. Serve immediately.
Tip For a vegetarian version, replace the pancetta with sliced chestnut mushrooms.