Strange as it might sound, you can easily adapt risotto-making techniques to cook spaghetti. Just think about the parallels: most people boil or steam rice, but the risotto technique toasts the grain in fat before adding liquid.
Likewise, spaghetti or any thin pasta can be toasted first before adding liquid, instead of boiling. This technique gives the added benefit of inducing more flavor into the pasta via the cooking liquid, as we do with risotto (see our Risotto Primer for the general cooking technique: click HERE).
This is not a new application of the risotto technique. In fact, it brings us back to the Rice-a-Roni product – rice and small pieces of pasta – that was first sauteed in butter, then cooking liquid was added. The great Spanish chef, Ferran Adrià, created a well-known dish of toasted pasta with clams (click HERE to see the recipe on FoodandWine.com).
We have been using a version of this recipe for several years, utilizing whole grain pasta for a healthier choice. There are many options for whole grain spaghetti, including those made from quinoa or spelt. In the Serious Foodie version, we show you how to make this dish using an easily available whole grain spaghetti, infusing flavor via the broth, and adding fresh asparagus.
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Risotto-Style Pasta with Asparagus
You can use regular thin spaghetti – but using whole grain versions will really up the flavor of this dish. Also, you can try other vegetable combinations – mushrooms & leeks, eggplant, zucchini, etc. This is a great, filling main course for Meatless Mondays, or a side dish that works well with pork and beef.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ¾ pound whole wheat spaghetti, broken into 4 to 5-inch lengths
- 5 cups basic broth (high quality vegetable broth, chicken broth, or stock)
- ⅓ cup minced onion
- ¾ pound fresh asparagus, washed, cut into 1 inch pieces (remove the tough bottom parts, and peel the stem if desired)
- ¼ cup cream (optional)
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Bring the broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan. Add the saffron, and stir. Leave the lid on until needed.
- In a heavy saute pan (at least 4 quarts) over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil. Saute the asparagus for 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan, and reserve.
- Melt additional 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoon olive oil in a over medium heat in the saute pan. Add the onion, and saute for 2 minutes, just until softened.
- Add the pasta, and coat each piece in the fat. Saute for 2 minutes.
- Pour in the wine, and let the liquid mostly evaporate.
- Raise the heat to medium high and begin to add the hot stock gradually, ½ cup at a time. Stir gently, almost constantly. Continue adding the broth and stirring. The pasta will be tender in 15 to 20 minutes after adding the first broth; taste at one minute intervals. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add back the asparagus when the pasta is mostly done; add the cream, if desired. Stir together.
- Remove the pan from the heat, then add the Parmesan.