FETTUCCINE WITH ASPARAGUS, HAM AND CREAM (alla Saffi, for four)
1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
1 pound fettuccine
6 ounces boiled unsmoked ham
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus additional cheese at the table
1. Cut off 1 inch or more from the butt ends of the asparagus to expose the moist part of each stalk. Peel the lower third of the asparagus stalks with a vegetable peeler.
2. Choose a pan that can accommodate all of the asparagus lying flat. Put in enough water to come 2 inches up the side of the pan, and 1 tablespoon salt. Turn on the heat to medium high and when the water boils, slip in the asparagus and cover the pan. Cook for 4 to 8 minutes after the water returns to a boil, depending on the freshness and thickness of the stalks. Drain the asparagus when it is tender, but firm. Wipe the pan dry with paper towels and set aside for later use.
3. When the asparagus is cool enough to handle, cut off the spear tips at their base, and cut the rest of the stalks into lengths of about ¾ inch. Discard any part of the stalk that is still woody and tough.
4. Cut the ham into long strips about ¼ inch wide. Put the ham and the butter into the pan where you cooked the asparagus, turn on the heat to medium low, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes without letting the ham become crisp.
5. Add the cut up asparagus spear tips and stalks, turn up the heat to medium high, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, turning all the asparagus pieces in the butter to coat them well.
6. Add the cream, turn the heat down to medium and cook, stirring constantly, for about half a minute, until the cream thickens. Taste and correct for salt.
7. Turn out the entire contents of the pan over cooked and drained pasta, toss thoroughly, add 2/3 cup grated Parmesan, toss again, and serve at once with additional grated cheese on the side.
NOTE: Marcella likes this sauce with small, tubular macaroni.
adapted from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking