Balsamic vinegar is reduced to make a thick, sweet glaze to toss with butter, pasta, and whatever vegetable is in season. Since the formula is so simple, it's easy to substitute seasonal vegetables–including broccoli, green beans, or roasted bell pepper strips–for the asparagus.
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.
Food & Wine JANUARY 1997
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Variations: 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.
Wine Recommendation: 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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