Simmering the balsamic vinegar both mellows and thickens it. When tossed with the hot pasta and the butter, it forms a smooth, uniquely flavored sauce.
Slideshow: Fast Weekday Pasta
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 pound penne
1/4 pound butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
How to Make It
Heat the oven to 400°. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until 3 tablespoons remain. Stir in the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.
Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter, vinegar, asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.
• Penne with Roasted Broccoli and Balsamic Butter When asparagus is not in season, cut 1 pound of broccoli into small spears for roasting. Toss them with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes. Continue with step 2.
• Penne with Roasted Vegetables, Toasted Nuts, and Balsamic Butter Toss in 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts, hazelnuts, or walnuts at the end with either asparagus or broccoli.
Balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and especially asparagus will be best served by a wine with plenty of acidity. Look for a Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France (made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes) or a Sauvignon Blanc from Italy.
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