Driftless Foodie: Creamy asparagus pasta with spinach and crispy prosciutto 

By By Jessica Woodward

As I’m writing this, I’m in disbelief at the events that Mother Nature just unfolded. Last week, we prepped our asparagus bed. We cleared the rubbish from the dirt, burned the old, dried fronds from last year, and raked on a fresh layer of compost. Only to have it all covered by a two-foot snow drift just four short days later. What!?! Who made Mother Nature that mad!?

However, this got me to thinking. When asparagus spears start bursting through the ground it’s usually a telltale sign that spring is here in many kitchens across the Midwest. Asparagus is one of the first pieces of fresh produce that we are able to taste after a winter full of last seasons’ freezer corn, canned substances, pickled pieces, etc. It really gets me excited to get in the kitchen and cook from what is growing locally.

So, this is the first of a three-part series honoring the spring fling queen herself — asparagus!

I originally wrote a risotto recipe for the first part, but I keep going back to one of my favorite asparagus pasta recipes that, as my husband would say, is on ‘the list.’ In fact, ever since we’ve moved here, it’s one of the first recipes I make with freshly snapped spears.

It’s a creamy asparagus pasta with spinach and crispy prosciutto. It is spring in a single bite!

One tip with asparagus- most people feel that they need to cut off the bottom ends of the asparagus and often down know where exactly to cut. So, If you’re getting it from the market or if you cut it while picking, I have a trick for you! hold the bottom part with one hand and grasp it toward the center with your other hand, when you bend it, it will naturally snap the woodier ends off.

Now let’s get cookin’!

Creamy asparagus pasta with spinach and crispy prosciutto

6 oz. of penne pasta

3-4 cups of asparagus cut into 1” pieces

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, shaved

8 oz. package of onion and chive cream cheese

1 2/3 cup milk

1 TBSP corn starch

1/2 cup parm cheese

2 cups fresh spinach

4 slices prosciutto

1/2 a lemon, fresh squeezed juice

1/2 cup torn basil

Salt and pepper

Bake the prosciutto at 375° for 8-10 minutes until crispy.

Cook the pasta according to the package and keep the water. Set the pasta and water side.

In a cast iron skillet, heat a tiny bit of oil and add the onion- cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and asparagus and cook an additional 5-7 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and cornstarch, and slowly stir it into the skillet. Let it start to thicken, reduce to a simmer, and then stir in the cream cheese until smooth. Taste and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat a low and stir in the Parmesan until it’s melted then add the spinach and basil. Remove from heat.

Add the pasta and stir until warmed through.

Top with the crispy prosciutto and a good squeeze of lemon.

I keep the pasta water always when making a pasta dish in case I need to thin out the sauce! Sometimes it’s needed, sometimes it is not.

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