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.