Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mint

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Though the botanical family Lamiaceae includes many other culinary flowering herbs, from basil to thyme, it is commonly known as “the mint family” in acknowledgment of its many bright, fragrant, and popular species that we call, simply, mint. Nowadays, if you live near a garden center or nursery, you will likely have access to at least peppermint, spearmint, pineapple mint, and apple mint, all popular varieties. Mysteriously, mints are less available on a reliable basis in stores, so it’s extremely useful to have your own out back. Because this perennial can really take over, you are probably wisest to plant it in a deep well-drained container or, if in the ground, a tightly constricted area. Shade or part sun is best, but mints are easy-going thrivers wherever you set them down.
Peppermint, which has a venerable and continuing history as a soothing and even nutritive medicinal, and which lives permanently in our mind’s eye as a sort of mid-century color, is one of my favorite flavors. For ice cream and candy canes, of course. For cool drinks like lemonade, juleps, and mojitos, and as a hot-tea afternoon pick-me-up. For jelly making, and as a frosting for brownies. In high summer, when there are great tomatoes, there is nothing so refreshing as a tabbouleh salad made with tons of lemon and chopped fresh mint.
But you can have it now. Our odd spring/early summer—endless cool and rainy weather followed by a sudden burst of ground-warming heat—has thrown off the usual orderly schedule of emerging produce, creating a somewhat confusing collision of choices. Asparagus was so late that its season was shorter than ever, while herbs started growing like mad. Even strawberries began to show before asparagus had totally given up the ghost for the season.
The famous spring asparagus goes nicely with mint. Mint’s refreshing, astringent qualities balance the grassy taste of asparagus and adds range to its somewhat limited profile.
Pasta with Asparagus and Mint
Pasta makes for a surprisingly light meal in unseasonably warm weather. The secret is to barely dress it. Serves 2.
3 strips smoky bacon
½ medium onion
½ lb medium-thin asparagus, or about 14 spears
1/3 cup light cream or half and half
6 oz dried quality egg fettuccine, such as De Cecco™
Salt, freshly ground pepper
About 25 large mint leaves
Grated parmesan (optional)
Put a large pot of water, covered, on to boil. Stack the mint leaves and roll them up tightly, lengthwise. With a very sharp knife, cut the rolls across very closely to a fine chiffonade. Cook the bacon over medium heat until it is crisp but not burned; remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels, leaving the fat in the pan.
While the bacon is cooking, bend the asparagus until it snaps, discarding the ends, then cut the stalks at an angle into 2” pieces. Slice the onion about ¼” thick.
Turn the heat up on the fat to medium high. Add the asparagus and toss it around for about 2 minutes; then add the onion and a little salt and pepper and cook with the asparagus until they have softened and begun to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the onions and asparagus from the pan; discard the fat and clean the pan out.
Pour about ¼ cup of the cream into the clean pan and put the heat on low. Salt the boiling water, add the pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Drain and add to the cream, raising the heat a little while tossing to coat and thicken a little. Just before removing from the heat, toss in the asparagus and onion, taste for seasoning, the add the remaining few tablespoons of cream. Divide the pasta between two bowls, crumble the bacon over it, and sprinkle generously with the mint. Serve at once, with parmesan if you like.
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2 comments:

Donald said...

I had a craving at lunch today for pasta. I think your recipe may be the way to treat myself later in the week to pasta with a difference.

Thanks!

Donald said...

Your recipe was Saturday night's treat here at home. A success! Pasta with asparagus and mint goes on the KEEP MAKING THIS list.

Thanks!