This dish is our interpretation of a recipe from the fabulous “Al Forno” restaurant in Providence, RI. Their original can be found in the terrific cookbook Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking From Al Forno written by the restaurant’s owners, Johanne Killeen and George Germon.
The key to it’s success comes from baking it in a large enough pan to hold all the pasta in a very thin layer. This allows the pasta to cook to al dente, and the asparagus to just cook through in a short amount of time in a very hot oven. The flavors of the lemon, tarragon, proscuitto and asparagus marry perfectly….don’t expect any left-overs.
It is an easy dish to make on a weeknight, requiring just a few minutes to slice the asparagus and par boil the pasta before tossing it into a large baking dish (or roasting pan) and placing it into the oven. For those of you who have been with us a while, you may notice the breadcrumbs we use as a topping here are the same ones from our Macaroni and Cheese with Ham recipe. If you haven’t already, make yourself a batch of these and toss them in your freezer, you’ll reach for them frequently to top pasta, fish, salads, you name it.
There is plenty of slicing and grating to keep idle young hands busy while making this dish, so by all means, grab one of your kids by the ear and drag them along to help. This one became an instant classic in our household, I’m sure it will in yours as well. Cheers – S.
- 1 pound Penne Rigate
- 3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- 3/4 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup rich chicken stock (2 cups good quality low-sodium stock, reduced by half)
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh tarragon
- 1 bunch asparagus, washed, dried and root ends trimmed
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 5 ounces thinly sliced imported prosciutto, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and a few grinds of white pepper
- 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 500 ℉
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta
- For the breadcrumbs - in a saute pan heat 2 tablespoons EVOO over medium heat and toast 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until golden brown. Spread on a plate to cool. (Keep for 2 days in the fridge, or a long time in the freezer)
- In a large bowl, combine the cream, reduced stock, lemon zest, cheeses, salt and pepper
- Slice the asparagus on an extreme bias, about 1/8-1/4” thick and toss into a small bowl with the melted butter, mix to coat
- Boil the pasta for 4 minutes, then drain and toss into the bowl with the cream and other ingredients, mix well
- Pour the pasta into a large baking dish or roasting pan so that it fits comfortably in a thin layer no more than 1” deep. Sprinkle the sliced asparagus and chopped prosciutto on top and toss it into the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling, and the pasta is just starting to take on color.
- Remove from the oven and serve, passing breadcrumbs and grated parmesan to sprinkle on top if desired.