Try it: Quick Summer Veggie Pasta 'recipe'

It's quite possible I was the only kid who thought that artichokes and asparagus were the tastiest things my mom could serve. I think it might be because in South Eastern Washington—where Walla Walla Sweet onions, brussels sprouts, and asparagus grow nicely next to apples, cherries, and grapes—you get fresh produce that actually tastes good.

As an adult living much farther inland where it's too cold most of the year to grow much I get a little desperate for the time of year when we can grow tomatoes and cucumbers and the grocery stores have some decent veggies from elsewhere. I've also learned the trick to making asparagus a veggie kids will eat. It starts in the store...

NEVER pick a bundle with thick stems. The thicker they get, the woodier the stems will be at the ends. Look for slim spears and they'll good more evenly from tip to end so you don't have soggy, chewy tips and crunchy, stringy ends. Then it's simply a matter of not overcooking them. I like to think of asparagus as a bit like pasta... it's best when it's al dente ("firm bite"). I cook it one of four ways: roasted in the oven, grilled, steamed (NEVER boil it!!!), and sauteed. My personal favorite is to sautee it in butter which isn't particularly healthy but sure is tasty. Olive oil is a great choice for roasting and sauteeing too, I just find it can lend a sourness to the asparagus versus the sweetness from butter.

While there's no way I can guarantee your kids will love asparagus my 12 and 2 year olds both eat it, even the hubs (who grew up with canned corn as the only veggie on the table) loves it. A great way to toss a bit of it in is with this simple meatless dish I literally threw together on a whim that's now a favorite!

1. Wash and trim ends of 1 bundle asparagus. Cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces, depending on your pasta choice you might want to go a little shorter. Sautee in butter adding a bit of garlic to taste if you like (I really like Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic for this dish). The pieces will turn bright green as they cook, you can test the doneness by stabbing a stem with a spear. Be sure you keep stirring them about as you sautee so they don't burn.

2. While the asparagus is sauteeing go ahead and get your pasta going. I recommend a short pasta like Campanelle or Gemelli but you might try Farfalle or Cellantani. Pick one that will sit well with asparagus and grape tomatoes, not shells or small shapes like elbows and ones that are asparagus-like in shape like Penne. I used Barilla's Campanelle, half a box which served the four of us with a little leftover.

3. About a minute before your asparagus should be done toss in about half a pint of grape tomatoes. You could add more if you love them but I wanted the asparagus to be the star of the dish. (If you have a toddler you can always cut them in half before you cook them or do what I do and cut everything tiny before I serve). Toss it all around for about a minute, check your asparagus for desired doneness and turn off the heat. You want the tomatoes warm, but not cooked until they pop.

4. Once your pasta is cooked drain it and return it to the pot. Add a tiny pat of butter and stir it gently until melted over the pasta. I dislike cooking my pasta in oil because I find it gives it a slick coating versus adding a tiny bit of butter after cooking which prevents sticking/tearing the noodles without the greasiness. Add the veggies to the pasta pot and gentle stir or vice versa. I find it easier to do the latter.

5. Serve in bowls topped with grated or shaved parmesan. Don't use that icky powdered kind, it's texture isn't suited to this dish and a little bit of the real deal goes a long way for adding flavor.

From start to finish this dish takes me about 20 minutes. I like to serve the occasional meat-free meal and it's a good one. It's great with grilled chicken breast and I bet a bit of shredded rotisserie chicken would make this a meat dish the kids would love. :) I hope you'll get inspired and give this dish a try or at least make asparagus a new friend.

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