I made this pasta by accident, after standing in front of the open refrigerator for a long while staring, slightly slack-jawed, at its contents, waiting, I think, for divine intervention. After a long day at work, it was late and I was hungry. As you might imagine, divine intervention did not strike. Instead, I started withdrawing items from the fridge, without much thought. Before I knew it, I had amassed a pile of asparagus, French radishes, a dwindling nub of feta and a box of baby arugula. Surveying the pile, salad was the obvious choice. But I wanted something more substantial. Pasta!, I thought. It was my culinary cure-all in college, after all. Surely it could work on this desparate evening!
So I set a pot of water on the stove to boil and set to work washing and slicing and mincing, mellowing out imperceptibly along the way. While some whole-wheat spaghetti boiled in salted water, I heated a puddle of olive oil in another skillet, to which I added a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a liberal pinch of red pepper flakes. (Apparently, I didn’t want myself to fall asleep, head first, in my dinner. ) When the pasta was nearly done, I slid the asparagus, sliced on the bias, into the bubbling water. Meanwhile, I transferred the garlic-chile oil to a large bowl, whisked in the juice of a lemon and a bit more olive oil. On top of that, I piled up some arugula and crumbled the feta. By then, the asaparagus was tender and the pasta was al dente. Both were drained and added to the bowl, which I tossed until the argula had wilted and the feta had nearly melted, creating a rich, salty sauce. The finishing touch was a shower of radish coins and some more red pepper flakes. I can’t tell you how good it was—beautiful, nourishing, comforting. Exactly what I needed.
We made the pasta again on Sunday night. This time around was much more deliberate and the cook was much more rested. The second version involved a grocery list, which in turn necessitated a trip to the grocery store. And that is where I found ramps. Ramps! I’ve been searching high and low all spring for the little buggers and, frankly, I’d given up. But, there, in the middle of a picked-over produce section, I found a treasure trove of them. I could’ve hugged the nearest Whole Foods shopper. Really, I probably could’ve cried. Instead, I added them to this pasta. We wouldn’t want me to be added to the Whole Foods Shopper Watch List, now would we?
So on the second go with this pasta, I swapped out some of the minced garlic for the minced pale-pink bulbs of the ramps. And I went a little easy on the arugula so that I could add the ramp greens in the arugula. It was all my favorite spring things—asparagus, color, radishes, ramps—on one big platter. I loved this version even more than the first, but with ramps being so hard to come by, I’m glad to have the first version in my repertoire as well.
Now, somehow, we’re on the verge of Memorial Day—summer’s official kick-off, in my mind at least. It’s around this time that I’m usually impatiently turning my sights to strawberries and sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes. But this year, I’m actually wishing spring would stick around a little longer. Ramps, I guess, will do that to a girl.
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
1 bundle of asparagus, trimmed and sliced in one-inch pieces on the bias
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or minced ramps—the non-green part)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving, if desired
1 lemon, juiced
2 cups baby arugula (or sliced ramp leaves, or a combination of the two)
1/2 cup feta, crumbled, plus more for serving
1/4 radishes, thinly sliced
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water for 7 to 8 minutes, until it is almost al dente. Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the minced garlic/ramps and red pepper flakes; cook until the garlic is fragrant and golden, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Transfer the garlic, flakes and oil to a large bowl. Whisk in the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Top the oil mixture with the arugula/ramp leaves and feta.
When the pasta is almost al dente, add the sliced asparagus to the boiling water. Cook the pasta and asparagus together for one minute. Drain well. Add the drained asparagus and pasta to the bowl with the greens and feta. Toss to combine, until the feta is almost melted and the pasta, asparagus and greens are coated in the sauce.
Transfer to a platter for serving and scatter the radishes and additional feta on top.