This bright pasta dish is the epitome of fresh spring fare. The earthy asparagus, cool ricotta and zesty lemon make the tender cavatelli come alive. It’s also quick enough for a weeknight dinner, but also impressive enough to serve guests.
Swap option: Fresh ricotta has a much more delicate flavor than most kinds with additives found in plastic tubs. You can find fresh ricotta in Italian markets or sometimes in supermarkets, mounded up high and packaged in small tin pails. It is often labeled as hand-dipped, hand-packed or hand-ladled. If you can’t find fresh ricotta in the tins, Calabro is a good brand found in plastic tubs. If the ricotta is wet, drain in a damp cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Place the woody stems from the asparagus in a food processor. Process until smooth.
Transfer the pureed asparagus to a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl. Let the juices drain, 5 to 10 minutes, pressing down lightly on the puree with a wooden spoon occasionally. Reserve the juice and discard the pulp.
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, Parmesan and 1 tablespoon lemon juice with some salt and pepper. Add the lemon zest and set aside.
Once the water has boiled, add the cavatelli and cook, according to the package instructions, until al dente.
Meanwhile, add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Remove the garlic, then add the sliced asparagus and sauté until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the cavatelli directly into the skillet with the asparagus. Add about half of the asparagus juice and allow to simmer for 1 minute. Add the remaining asparagus juice and the remaining tablespoon lemon juice and cook until the pasta is glossy, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with Pecorino Romano, lemon zest, dollops of the whipped ricotta, basil and black pepper.