This recipe comes from our May pasta spotlight, Chef Luigi Diotaiuti. This recipe appears in his cookbook, The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook.

The sturdiness of the asparagus and cherry tomatoes in this dish simply calls for firm pasta, such as penne. This dish gets rave reviews whenever I offer it as a special at Al Tiramisu. In fact, I don’t remember ever serving it and not receiving a comment, always favorable.

The key is to use a good quality smoked mozzarella, which adds great depth to this and other dishes. For that reason, you may want to keep plenty of smoked mozzarella in your fridge. It stays fresh for quite a while and can be used liberally to liven up sandwiches, soups, and pasta. Smoked mozzarella has gained popularity in recent years and can generally be found at markets like Whole Foods and Italian gourmet shops.

In a large wide skillet, heat half of the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until it releases its aroma and begins to golden.

Directions:

  1. Add cherry tomatoes and asparagus. Stir to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Salt generously once water boils. Add penne, stir.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain penne, reserving some of the pasta water.
  4. Add a tablespoon or so of the pasta water to the vegetable mixture, if needed. Add smoked mozzarella cubes and toss well to combine and melt the mozzarella. Add basil and stir well.
  5. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the pasta to add shine and extra flavor. Plate immediately and serve hot.

Italian Cooking Primer

When cooking asparagus as a side dish, be careful not to overcook it. As they say in Rome, “As quick as cooking asparagus.” The traditional dressing for asparagus is a simple dash of salt and a drizzle of high-quality olive oil.

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