This pasta is certainly a decadent meal but doesn't taste as rich as you would think. I suppose the pasta absorbs some of the sauce while it bakes in the oven because it wasn't overly creamy which I liked. What I dont like? It's definitely not a healthy, low-fat meal! But this is a delicious meal especially if you are looking for something flavorful to cook for your vegetarian friend. If you are looking to cut calories on this, I think it would be just as tasty without the breadcrumb topping.
Baked Fettuccine with Asparagus, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Mascarpone (source: Fine Cooking magazine)
2 Tbs. olive oil; more for the pan
2 lb. medium-thick asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces on an angle
8 scallions (whites and tender greens), cut in thin rounds
Finely grated zest from 2 lemons
Juice from 1 lemon (about 4 Tbs.)
A few sprigs fresh thyme or savory, leaves chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
Small pinch cayenne
Generous pinch ground allspice
3/4 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1 lb. fresh fettuccine
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Heat the oven to 450°F. Lightly coat a large, shallow baking dish with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and blanch until tender but with a slight bite left to it, about 2 minutes. Scoop it from the water with a large slotted spoon, set it in a colander, and run it under cold water to preserve its green color. Drain well. Keep the water boiling for the pasta.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the scallions; sauté 1 minute to soften. Add the asparagus and sauté briefly, about 1 minute. Take the skillet off the heat and add half the zest, the lemon juice, thyme, salt, and pepper; mix well and reserve.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and flour over medium heat, whisking until smooth. Cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly, to cook away the raw taste of the flour. Add the milk and cook, whisking all the while, until it comes to a boil. Lower the heat a bit and cook until smooth and lightly thickened (about the consistency of heavy cream), 3 or 4 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the mascarpone, the remaining lemon zest, and 1/2 cup of the Grana Padano, whisking until the mixture is fairly smooth (there will be a slight grainy texture from the cheese). Season with the cayenne, allspice, and more salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and the remaining Grana Padano. Season with salt and pepper and add a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well.
Return the cooking water to a full boil and cook the fettuccine, leaving it slightly underdone. Drain well. Return the fettuccine to the cooking pot. Add the mascarpone sauce, the pine nuts, and the asparagus with all its juices. Toss and taste for seasoning. Pour into the baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake uncovered until bubbling and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve right away.