Spring Bucatini with Asparagus, Pancetta and Fried Lemons
2 lemons, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
½ cup neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 pound dried bucatini
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces pancetta, diced
½ pound green asparagus, woody ends snapped off and stalks cut into 2-inch pieces
½ pound white asparagus, woody ends snapped off, stalks peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 ounces grated pecorino romano, plus more for finishing
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½-1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
Note: If you can’t get your hands on white asparagus, just use 1 pound of the green stuff.
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the lemon slices for 45 seconds. Transfer them to a bowl of ice water and then to a paper towel-lined plate.
Thoroughly dry the lemon slices and sprinkle with salt.
Pour out the water, dry out the saucepan and add in the neutral oil. Heat the oil over a medium flame for a minute or so, then carefully add lemons. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the peels are golden and the centers are crispy and a deep brown. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and set aside on a dry paper towel.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Reserve 1 cup pasta water before draining.
While the pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook pancetta, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until crisp, 5 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon rendered fat and add 2 more tablespoons olive oil.
Cook asparagus for about 2 minutes, then add garlic. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until garlic softens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to medium-low.
Add butter to sauté pan, then carefully pour in 1 cup reserved pasta water. Stir to emulsify, then use tongs to transfer drained pasta from pot to pan. Add pecorino romano and toss constantly with tongs until liquid starts to thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes. Occasionally scrape the bottom edges of the pan with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add lemon zest, pancetta and red pepper flakes. Keep tossing to incorporate and until pasta is glossy and coated in sauce.
Divide pasta among bowls and garnish with fried lemon slices and more red pepper flakes and pecorino if desired.
Recipe by Tanya Sichynsky