Road trip souvenir: Linguine with Asparagus, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

by Terry B on April 30, 2013

Based on a lively side dish we had on a recent trip, this quick vegetarian pasta dish makes the most of in-season-now asparagus and gets a bright flavor boost from balsamic vinegar. Recipe below.


We were in St. Louis a few weeks ago, visiting our friends Rich and Laura. As usual, we ate lots of good food there. Scoops of Ozark black walnut ice cream at Crown Candy Kitchen. Heart healthy (and satisfying) egg white breakfast sandwiches at the bustling Nadoz Euro Bakery and Cafe. Local, seasonal-focused classic French cuisine at Franco, housed in the former Welsh Baby Carriage Factory across the street from Soulard Market.

But our favorite meal was prepared in our friends’ hardworking, beautiful open kitchen. Laura is a vegetarian whose diet skews mostly vegan, with detours into pescetarian. That doesn’t keep her from cooking meat for her omnivorous family and friends, though.

The meal in question involved a wonderful mushroom-stuffed rolled pork tenderloin, pan seared, then roasted. Don’t be surprised if a version turns up here one day. As delicious as the tenderloin was, this week’s recipe was inspired by her show-stealing side dish—steamed asparagus topped with sautéed grape tomatoes finished with garlic and balsamic vinegar and topped with dollops of goat cheese. The big flavors of the tomatoes and asparagus are enhanced by the vinegar, and everything is balanced by the creamy goat cheese. To give it a starring role, I turned this flavorful side into a vegetarian pasta main course.

Asparagus is in season now, beckoning from produce shelves everywhere. For this dish, you don’t need the pencil-skinny spears, but you definitely don’t want the chunky asparagus cigars (I mean seriously, who ever wants those?). Skinny to medium spears will work best.

For the tomatoes, smallish grape tomatoes are best. If all you can get are cherry tomatoes, halve them before cooking.

Before I get to the recipe, I’d like to share a non-culinary taste of St. Louis. Marion and I have followed local bluesman Leroy Pierson for years. When we lived in St. Louis, we spent more Saturday nights than not dancing to Leroy and his band playing an amazing mix of rock, reggae and blues at the Broadway Oyster Bar.

Leroy earned his blues chops honestly, studying with Delta blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell (along with Bonnie Raitt). He was also a student and friend of Henry Townsend. He now plays solo blues sets most Friday nights at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups, and we time our St. Louis visits to catch his performances.

On our most recent visit, Leroy coaxed former band member Dominic Schaeffer onstage to join him in singing Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move. We also followed our friend Dominic’s numerous bands when we lived in St. Louis. Seeing them together again was a special treat.

Linguine with Asparagus, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
Serves 2

12 to 16 asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces (about 1-1/2 cups)
7 ounces linguine (or fettuccine or spaghetti)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces goat cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. When it comes to a full boil, blanch the asparagus pieces by dumping them in the pot of water, cooking them for 1 minute, then transferring them to a bowl of iced water with a slotted spoon.

Cook the pasta to al dente, following the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium flame. Add the tomatoes and sauté until they begin to soften, burst and brown slightly, stirring frequently, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Drain the asparagus pieces and add them to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Season with a generous grind of black pepper. Add garlic and oregano to pan and cook, stirring, until just fragrant, about 45 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add pasta to asparagus and tomato mixture and toss to coat. If the dish seems dry, add pasta water 2 tablespoons at a time as needed. Taste and adjust seasonings. Divide between two pasta bowls, crumble goat cheese over pasta and serve.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

kitchenriffs May 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Lots to do in St. Louis! And you chose 3 great eating places. Although it sounds like your friend’s kitchen was the best of the lot. Spectacular looking dish. Goat cheese and balsamic vinegar is such a great combo. I make a salad that’s similar to this, but never thought to make it into a pasta dish – love the idea!

Dr. M May 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm

I think I would prefer this just as you had it – without the pasta. Sounds like something to try this weekend!! Thanks!

Terry B May 1, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Thanks, Kitchenriffs. We had a great weekend in St. Louis and ran out of time long before we ran out of things to do. Visited the Art Museum (will have to get back there after the new expansion opens). Saw the very cool current exhibit at the Pulitzer Foundation (although our main reason for going there was to be amazed yet again by Serra’s huge sculpture Joe. And were bowled over by the tremendous renovation of the main library downtown. This gem of a building—and library—is now even more awesome.

Dr. M, it was definitely delicious as a side. I hope you do try it!

altadenahiker May 1, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Love watching this guy play — I’m mesmerized.

Terry B May 2, 2013 at 1:09 am

He is amazing, isn’t he, Altadenahiker? Here’s another track for you, with much better audio and video. Leroy playing Easy Rider Blues on an acoustic National steel guitar.

Cookbook Create May 2, 2013 at 2:11 am

What a great spring pasta dish- healthy and filled with fresh produce. Instead of using water to moisten the dish, would it be okay to use a drizzle of olive oil for flavor? Yum.

Katrina May 2, 2013 at 3:25 am

I agree on skipping the pasta – but mmmm, maybe some nice hot bread to sop up the juices? Wonderful (and seasonal) recipe – the asparagus is just coming up!

Terry B May 2, 2013 at 3:58 am

Hi, Cookbook! I would stick with the pasta water. This dish is flavorful as it is, and the starch in the pasta water will help create a little bit of sauce that sticks to the pasta.

Katrina, either as a side dish or a pasta, there really aren’t a lot of juices to this dish. Everything pretty much clings to the vegetables. But whichever way you try it, I think you’ll like it.

[email protected] May 3, 2013 at 12:56 am

I can see how the vinegar would bring this all together, as well as the grape tomatoes. Sometimes meatless dishes can be so wonderful. The black walnut ice cream, however, sounds divine.

Terry B May 3, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Angela, the black walnut ice cream is indeed divine, especially as served up by Crown’s. And it’s not a flavor that turns up many places.

Anita May 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Mushroom-stuffed pork tenderloin recipe? Yes, please!

Dr. M May 5, 2013 at 1:47 am

I made the side dish version! Just finished licking my plate! Mmmmmm, thanks for the great idea, you and Laura! (I took a picture but can’t post it).

Dr. M May 5, 2013 at 1:47 am

Also, I second Anita :)

Terry B May 6, 2013 at 3:36 am

Anita, Marion and I were discussing creating a version of this very recipe. Stay tuned.

Dr. M, thanks for updating us—glad you liked it! Also, see above.

kitty May 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I can see bringing this as a cold lunch. This looks wonderful!

nickcatledge July 8, 2013 at 10:06 am

I agree. This looks like something I would bring for lunch. I could spoil myself without actually having to pay to go out to eat.

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