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Asparagus and Guanciale Carbonara

Posted in Mary Contini recipes on Saturday, 17 April 2021
Asparagus and Guanciale Carbonara

Thanks to the canny use of Polly tunnels, the first Scottish asparagus has been harvested and will be showing up in your local greengrocers now. From a niche crop 25 years ago, Scottish asparagus is now easily available. The fresher asparagus, the less woody the stem, and sweeter the taste. This makes our own local asparagus, in my view, the best.

Try this familiar pasta dish with Guanciale, Tuscan smoked pigs’ cheek. It is slowly cured with herbs and spices and when cooked down melts into a creamy sublime flavour, perfect with asparagus.

400g Asparagus
50g unsalted butter
100g guanciale or smoked pancetta, chopped into small cubes, rind removed
4 free range egg yolks
50g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino
Sea salt and black pepper
360g spaghetti

Firstly, prepare the asparagus. Use a potato peeler or sharp knife to peel off the leaf spikes along the sides of the stalks. Hold each spear with two hands and snap to naturally break off the tough end. Break off the tips and cut the spears at an angle, about 2 cm long. Rinse in cold water, the tips can sometimes harbour grit if they grew in a heavy rain.

Add the cut stalks to boiling salted water. After 4-5 minutes add the spears which cook quicker. After a further 2-3 minutes drain the asparagus, saving the cooking water which is packed with flavour. Refresh the asparagus in cold water and set aside.

Prepare a pot of boiling water with the asparagus water added to add flavour. Salt to taste and add the pasta and simmer according to the packet instructions.

Melt the butter in a wide frying pan and add the chopped pancetta or bacon. Sauté for 8 minutes or so until the fat starts to soften and melt down and it is well browned.

Add the cooked asparagus and toss to coat with the juices.

Beat the egg yolks and grated parmesan together and add plenty of freshly grated black pepper.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, but still al dente, use tongs to lift it from the water and add to the frying pan, tossing it well in the bacon and asparagus mixture. Add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water to add moisture to the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat.

To finish the dish, pour over the egg mixture using tongs to lift the pasta helping the eggs coat the warm pasta in a glossy sauce, adding more pasta water if required.

Serve immediately in warmed bowls with more grated parmesan, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and plenty of ground black pepper.