Springtime: Fresh Local Asparagus Nesting in Spaghetti


The spring is here and soon the fresh Washington asparagus will also be here. At the moment, there is fresh asparagus from California, and it is good. But you must fuss a bit with it. It has rushed through time and storms and boxes to get here.  

I choose the thicker, purple variety. Trim the ends, at least an inch or two. Then soak the asparagus, for ten minutes or so, in cold water to cover. This will refresh the asparagus, but also it will help it cook more quickly. 

In the meantime, boil a pot of water for spaghetti, salt it well when it comes to boil. The spaghetti is like long grass to the asparagus, a swirl to mix in. You will add the pasta to cook for a moment with the asparagus. But when you serve it, the pasta should be the base.

Chop three cloves of garlic, grate some parmesan, pour out 1/4 cup of jeavy cream into a glass, set a couple of tiny dried pepperoncini alongside. Have cold butter at hand, and good flake salt and good cracked pepper.

Pull off ten stems of cilantro and as many basil leaves. Mix together and lightly chop the mix on the cutting board and set to the side — they will go in last. It is spring and time for spring herbs, the lightest, brightest dancing.

Lift the asparagus from the cold water to drain. With a sharp carrot peeler, trim the outer skin from the bottom two inches of each stalk, so they look like bare ankles.

In a 12-inch saute pan, fill with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Then lay your asparagus into the boiling water; there should be room enough for each stalk to be covered. Let them bubble for 1.5 to 2 minutes, no more. Then lift them out and let them drain. 

Add the spaghetti to the other pot, stir, and keep track that it will need only eight minutes or so to be cooked.

On the cutting board, on a diagonal, cut each stalk to four pieces, keeping the tips together. Put the saute pan back on medium heat, add a little olive oil  and a tablespoon cold butter; when that heats, add the garlic and the dried pepper for two minutes, stirring. You are bringing the flavor from the garlic, not browning it. Turn the heat down if too brisk.

Add the asparagus pieces, except the tips, a good handful of salt and grind some pepper, stir and mix with the garlic and oil using a rubber spatula to not bruise the pieces. Cook for another minute or so, stirring and staying with it, and then add the tips. Stir to mix and add the cream, folding it into the sauce. It should bubble slowly and thicken the sauce.

With luck and timing, the pasta is ready. Lift it out and add directly to your saute pan crew, still wet. Add salt and more pepper and a bit of the parmesan and mix well, folding. Heat should now be low. Add another tablespoon of butter, a little pasta water if it is too dry. Mix a final time, turn off the heat, it should be ready! You need a bit of sauce to keep the order.

Make sure your plates/bowls are slightly heated. The pasta should appear topped with three or four pieces of the asparagus –  they are the lead singers. To each serving, finish with a good line of olive oil, more parmesan, some flake salt and ground pepper and finally, the chopped basil/cilantro. You are here with spring, with greens and spices, with tips and sauces.

This is not spaghetti with asparagus added — this is spaghetti as the soft sweet ground beneath the first of the asparagus, it is their day.

Peter Miller
Peter Miller
Peter Miller runs the Peter Miller Design Bookshop, in Pioneer Square, in the alley between First Avenue and Alaska Way. He is there, every day. He has written three books, Lunch at the Shop, Five Ways to Cook, and How to Wash the Dishes. A fourth book, Shopkeeping, A Manual, will be published in Spring 2024, by Princeton Architectural Press.


  1. Thank you! It is worth waiting for Washington-grown asparagus. There used to be more grown in WA, but when companies decided to import asparagus from South America and that processing smaller crops of asparagus from Washington farms didn’t suit their ‘economic model,; asparagus growers plowed their fields and put in other crops. I’m grateful for Washington asparagus and look forward to it!

  2. So, no quantities of pasta and asparagu noted, but specifics on the garlic and cream…
    Box of pasta? Pound of spears?
    Just asking.
    The Count

  3. apologies, the specs were inadvertently left off. 1/2 lb asparagi. 1/2 lb dried pasta, favoring Rustichella d’ Abruzzi spaghetti. The WA SPARAGUS is only now coming, perhaps a month away, but more than worth the wait! Wait, then pounce!

  4. I tried a pasta dish this week from a recipe I saw in the NYT Cooking section a few weeks back, titled: Creamy Lemon Pasta. Sounds very similar to what Peter describes here with a heavy cream sauce, but with lemon zest and the juice from two lemons. Super simple and quick to make. Simple to clean up after. Most importantly, very tasty, and bright for the spring season. Not too filling.

    As a side dish, I had some simply steamed asparagus stalks. I like the purple ones too, but I skimped this week and bought the less expensive green ones next to the purple ones. Steamed them for 2 to 2-½ minutes above an inch or so of boiling water until they were bright green and still crisp. Drowned them in cold white wine vinegar immediately after plucking them out of the sauna.

    Ironically, while eating the asparagus as a side to the simple plate of lemony pasta, I thought that chopping the asparagus into 1″ long pieces and tossing them in the pasta might be a good idea. I never tried that last bit, but I will likely try next time if asparagus is still in season. Peter Miller’s article inspired me to try it.

    The NYT recipe was good for four dishes. I saved a few helpings for later nights. Re-warmed in a covered Dutch oven with a little cold butter (< 1tbsp) and a small splash of water (~ 1-2 tbsp) placed on the bottom and the cold leftover pasta on top, at 350F for 20-25 minutes, they tasted quite fresh. Steamed some fresh asparagus for the leftover meals. Had one of those leftover plates tonight (Sunday).

    The NYT recipe is here for those with access: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/8355-creamy-lemon-pasta.

    The recipe calls for 12 oz. of wide egg noodles. I used the equivalent dry weight of Pappardelle noodles (long and flat, about ¾-inch wide).

    The rest of the pasta ingredient list included: 2 lemons; 8 fl.oz. heavy cream; salt and coarse ground black pepper to taste.


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