Saturday, September 7, 2013

Penne Pasta with Roasted Asparagus, Red Pepper and Balsamic Butter

Here's another great recipe for "Meatless Monday" that I picked up from Food and Wine.  It's easy to prepare and provides you with a pasta meal that has a different taste than you usually get with pasta (i.,e., tomato, pesto or cream sauces.)  When I mentioned the balsamic butter sauce to my spouse I got a look of skepticism.  But why I'm not sure as most everyone loves balsamic vinegar.  We surely do!

If you haven't enjoyed it before, it is a velvety, dark brown vinegar that is both sweet and tart and has a complex flavor profile. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that it is made from an un-fermented reduction of cooked white grapes instead of wine.  It's then aged in five different woods, the barrels of which should be at least half a century old. As it ages, the vinegar evolves from a thin fluid to a syrup-like consistency.  A 50-year-old vintage will resemble molasses in its color and thickness, and at that age has become a rare product indeed.  While today you can get facsimiles of the real thing, only in the Emilia-Romania region of Italy and specifically the area in and around Modena can the very finest vinegar be found.  It has been made in this region of Italy since the Middle Ages.

In the store you are ideally looking for "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena" (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena) and "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia" (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia).  These are protected names by both the Italian Denominazione di origine protetta and the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin.  If budgets a concern, for salads you can also purchase Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena), a less expensive version of the traditional product.

I've made this dish repeatedly as it was so well received the first time around.  I've added the red pepper and made some minor changes to improve the consistency of the sauce.  We love it and I think your family will enjoy it too!

1 pound asparagus
1 fresh red pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 pound penne
1/4 pound butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat the oven to 400F degrees. Cut the ends off the asparagus that are tough and dry.  Cut the spears into pieces about the same size as the penne pasta.  Cut and remove the seeds/stem from the red pepper.  Cut into strips then lengths about he size of the peene pasta.  Put the asparagus and red pepper on a baking sheet and sprinkle with oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 8 minutes.

While it roasts, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until 3 tablespoons remain. Stir in the brown sugar and the remaining pepper. Remove from the heat.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done and still al dente. Drain the pasta reserving 1 cup of hot pasta water.  Toss the pasta with the butter, vinegar mixture, asparagus, red pepper, Parmesan, and the remaining salt.  Note: If the vinegar mixture has become to thick, use hot pasta water to thin it.  Serve with additional Parmesan.

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