- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 1 ½ lbs. asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 1 medium shallot, chopped
- ½ cup packed basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
- 1 ½ teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb. rigatoni
- ¼ lb. sliced bacon
- 1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup unsalted roasted pistachios, very finely chopped
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
When I moved to Minnesota in the 1990s, I was in treatment for chemical dependency and alcoholism. After six months, I got out and eventually found a job washing dishes and busing tables at a French restaurant in the Twin Cities called Café Un Deux Trois. It was two weeks old and already coming off the rails. Packed to the gills, it was the biggest thing to hit Minnesota since sliced bread. Literally. The owners would fly in from New York and swear at the customers (not very Minnesota Nice!), and the kitchen was run by an earnest and talented young chef hot off a few years spent in NYC cooking with David Bouley. One day a line cook called in sick, and since I had been watching his station for a few days from the vantage point of the dish room and the busers’ station, I thought I could put out his food. I did, got a job as a line cook immediately and within a few weeks was asked by the owners to take over the kitchen. I brought in my own team; then Michael, the restaurant manager, bought out the NYC crew (thanks Georges, Gerard and Billy!); and for the next five years, we had a huge hit on our hands. It was restaurant heaven. The only dish that survived the first menu changeover was this amazing asparagus pasta, which the old chef swore he got from Bouley. While that may or may not be true, if it’s not Bouley’s, it should have been—it’s that delicious.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast for about 3 minutes, until golden brown.
2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the asparagus with the carrots and shallot and process until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir in the basil, garlic, honey, thyme, lemon zest, cumin and the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until the vegetables are soft and just starting to brown. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, 12 to 14 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a baking sheet and toss with olive oil.
4. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels and finely chop it.
5. In a very large skillet, combine the cooked vegetables with the chicken stock and butter and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 4 minutes. Add the pasta, pine nuts, pistachios and the reserved 1/2 cup of pasta water and cook, tossing, until the sauce is thick and the pasta is coated. Stir in the parsley and chopped bacon and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to bowls and serve, passing the grated cheese at the table.
Make Ahead: The pesto can be prepared through Step 2 and refrigerated overnight.
If the pistachios aren't chopped ahead of time, chop them in the food processor *before* mincing the vegetables.