Creamy Penne Pasta – Aphrodisiac Style
I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a huge deal, with a killer meal that’s absolutely perfect. As I explained in yesterday’s post, we sometimes celebrate and sometimes don’t (usually depending on how busy we are at the time), and since our time off is precious, the last thing we want to do is deal with Valentine’s Day crowds out at restaurants (not to mention the Valentine’s prices!). We’d rather have a quiet night in, with a good home cooked meal to celebrate the occasion.
So in thinking about what to make for the holiday, I thought I’d go the route of trying to incorporate foods that are know for having aphrodisiac qualities. I did some research online and found this informative little page. A few of the foods jumped out at me, and I thought they would go nicely together in a pasta dish, which for us is one of the ultimate comfort foods.
The result is this penne with asparagus and pistachios in a creamy garlic-basil sauce. This dish incorporates basil, garlic, nutmeg, asparagus and pistachios – all foods that are supposedly aphrodisiacs, or linked to fertility. Who knows how much of that is actually true, but whether or not you believe it, these elements still make for a pretty tasty dish.
I tried to find some sauce recipes online, but most of them were just pesto with cream added. I decided I’d make up my own version, and I think this is pretty yummy, especially with the asparagus. My sauce was pretty thick, so I’ve changed a couple of the liquid quantities in the recipe below. If the sauce is thinner than you’d like, just let it simmer a bit longer. If it’s too thick you can thin it out with some vegetable broth or with your pasta water.
Penne Pasta with Asparagus in a Garlic-Basil Cream Sauce
1 bunch asparagus
1 pound penne pasta
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) non-dairy margarine [I used Earth Balance]
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shallot, minced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons organic unbleached all-purpose flour
6 large basil leaves
1 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups non-dairy creamer [I used unsweetened MimicCreme]
couple pinches of nutmeg
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped [you can use raw or roasted - whichever you like best]
4 or 5 basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade style (optional, for garnish)
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Snap or chop off the woody bottoms of the asparagus, and chop the stalks into pieces that are roughly the size of your penne. Rinse the asparagus and set aside.
Heat a large sauce pan or pot over medium heat and melt the margarine and olive oil together. Add the shallots and saute until they’re soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute until it’s fragrant, about a minute. Whisk in the flour, and stir for a minute or two until it’s incorporated and has had a chance to toast a bit.
While whisking constantly, pour in the vegetable broth and then the cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth. Crush the basil leaves in your fist and add them to the sauce. Stir them around, reduce the heat, and stir the sauce occasionally while you boil the asparagus and pasta.
Once your water is boiling, add the asparagus and a large pinch of sea salt to the pot. Boil the asparagus for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until it’s bright green and crisp-tender. You basically want it to loose it’s raw taste, but don’t want to over cook it. Remove the asparagus from the water, and set it aside. Add the pasta with another teaspoon or so of salt. Cook according to the package directions.
Your sauce should be thickened up a bit at this point. Test it for seasoning – you might need to add salt depending on how salty your vegetable broth is. Add the nutmeg to taste.
When the pasta finishes boiling, reserve about a 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain the pasta and add it along with the asparagus to your sauce. Stir everything together, adding pasta water as needed if your sauce is a bit thick.
Before serving, remove the basil leaves. To serve the pasta, scoop it into bowls and sprinkle with fresh cracked pepper, chopped pistachios and basil chiffonade. Enjoy!