I was searching for asparagus inspiration, because it’s a major spring vegetable, and I almost sort of like it. I’m trying to transition that ambivalence to full-on like. This recipe sort of hides the asparagus, but it does still have it, so that’s sort of a step in the right direction, yes? I was originally looking at Smitten Kitchen’s Spring Asparagus Pancetta Hash – can you tell I’m a fangirl? I only mention her like every 5th blog post. I was all set to just make the recipe to see if I liked it, but then I started tumbling into the depths of Google and found Gnocchi with Asparagus and Pancetta from My Recipes. And then I started thinking about sauces, and things really spiraled out of control. My search for a light, but flavorful, asparagus-based recipe morphed into a pasta dish with a creamy sauce. I can’t tell you how often this happens to me. Pasta dishes with creamy sauce are very high on my list of the good things in life.
The creamy sauce for this dish isn’t a typical alfredo. It’s ricotta-based, with lots of fresh garlic and basil, and some dried tarragon. It’s about the lightest creamy sauce you can make that still uses whole-milk cheese. This keeps the dish from feeling too heavy for the bright spring days we’ve been having. If you let it thicken on the stove long enough, after adding in the cooked pancetta, asparagus, and gnocchi, you end up with a kind of cross between creamy pasta and a warm, delicious potato salad. The pillow-y gnocchi goes perfectly with the thick sauce, and the asparagus adds bursts of crunch in each bite.
I cooked the pancetta first, so I could toss the asparagus into the skillet afterwards, with all that delicious pancetta grease. I chopped the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, and let them cook for about 5 minutes. This let them get just barely soft on the outside, while picking up the lovely pancetta flavor. I tend to find asparagus a little bitter, but cooking it like this made me want to just eat it straight from the pan. The only thing I’d change about this recipe for next time would be doubling the asparagus, because it really did sort of disappear among the gnocchi.
This dish makes a fairly small amount, about two good-sized portions, so it would be a perfect date-night option. If you want to get all fancy and cook for someone you like, I’m pretty sure they’d want to see you again after this one. It’s easy to make, but it sounds and looks so much more impressive than it really is. This isn’t quite a one-pot recipe, but it’s close. You can fry the pancetta, then cook the asparagus, and then make the sauce right in the same pan. The only other thing to do is cook the gnocchi, but even that only takes about 5 minutes. If gnocchi isn’t your favorite, you could try this dish with regular pasta or maybe some tortellini, because you can never have too much cheese. You can also use bacon in place of the pancetta.
The week leading up to Easter was one of the busiest I’ve had in a long time, so I’ve been eating on the go a lot. It felt great to get back into the kitchen and come up with something new and delicious, that also didn’t take a million years to cook. I had my Asparagus Pancetta Gnocchi for dinner yesterday, and it was such a nice balance of comforting (after a very busy week), and light and fresh. I have a feeling I’ll be making this one again soon – with more asparagus next time!
Asparagus Pancetta Gnocchi with Ricotta Sauce
Adapted from Asparagus Pancetta Hash from Smitten Kitchen, and Gnocchi with Asparagus and Pancetta from My Recipes.
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 oz pancetta
- 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
- 1/8 tsp dill
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb asparagus
Dice the pancetta and cook in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crispy. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel to soak up excess grease. Slice the asparagus into one-inch sections and add to the skillet, after removing the pancetta. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the outside is slightly tender.
2. While asparagus is cooking, chop onion and garlic. Remove cooked asparagus from the pan and add onion and garlic. There should still be plenty of grease in the skillet from the pancetta, but you can add a Tbsp of olive oil if it seems too dry. Cook the onion and garlic until the onion softens. Start cooking the gnocchi according to the directions on the package (typically, add to a large pot of boiling water and let cook for 4-5 minutes, until all the gnocchi floats to the top).
3. Add ricotta and milk to the onion and garlic. Stir gently until the ricotta softens and becomes smooth. Lower heat, and stir in gnocchi, pancetta, and asparagus. Add salt, pepper, basil, tarragon, and dill, and stir until well-mixed. Add more salt to taste. If you prefer a thinner sauce, it should be ready to serve at this point. For a thicker sauce, let cook on low for another minute or two before serving.