After eating this meal I decided that we don’t eat enough prosciutto in this house. I love it, especially in my dad’s famous stuffed Italian peppers. But I always forget about it at the grocery store, and I rarely pick it up unless a recipe calls for it. In this dish, the salty bits of dry-cured ham pair nicely with sweet, tender asparagus, and soft, smoky mozzarella cheese. Oh, and are you all aware of the magic that is pasta cooking water? Using just a bit of the starchy liquid can pull together a wonderfully silky sauce without it being at all watery. Every time I use this method , I’m reminded of the satisfaction I feel when a vinaigrette finally emulsifies and when a mess of chopped chocolate and cream turns into a velvety, shiny bowl of chocolate ganache. And in this case, cooking the pasta and the sauce together for a minute or so further infuses the flavors into the ziti making every bite worth it.
The whole time I was cooking this meal I kept checking my cookbook to make sure I hadn’t forgotten a step. It took so little time and effort that I couldn’t believe we were going to be able to sit down for dinner in under thirty minutes. I have happily added this recipe to my list of “we need dinner in a flash and we don’t want to do a lot of dishes” weeknight dinners. Hmmm, those Italians could be onto something.
Ziti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella, and Prosciutto
Source: Everyday Italian, Giada De Laurentiis
8 ounces dried ziti
1 pound asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
3 ounces smoked mozzarella, diced
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
3 Tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook for five minutes, stirring often. Add the asparagus to the same pot, and cook until the pasta is al dente and the asparagus is crisp-tender, about two more minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta and asparagus.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the pasta, asparagus, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and 1/2 cup of reserved cooking liquid, and toss to coat. Note: the recipe recommended using a whole cup of cooking liquid. I tried half a cup first and was happy with the consistency, so I didn’t end up using the full cup. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the mozzarella, prosciutto, and basil and combine. Taste for seasonings and add more salt and pepper if desired. Since prosciutto is delightfully salty on its own, I found it unnecessary to add any more salt.