Kombu, dried, thick sheets of seaweed with distinctive and strong flavour, is used to first infuse the pasta cooking water and later the cream sauce.
Raw asparagus gets sliced up (turns out I have lived 29 years on this planet without realising HOW GOOD BARELY COOED, CRUNCHY ASPARAGUS IS?!) and tossed with the cream sauce, sliced red onion and the pasta before a splash of rice vinegar gets added for some extra zing.
The final dish gets topped with seasoned nori sheets (often eaten as healthy snack), thinly sliced for lots of crunch, and a good helping of corse sea salt.
The flavours once put together are outstanding, I can't quite describe why, but all the unusual elements create something quite special when fused and make it one of the best and most interesting pasta creations I have made in my time in the kitchen.
Leave the doubts to one side, find your nearest organic or Asian supermarket for the more niche ingredients and make this for dinner asap. You won't regret it.
- 20 grams of seasoned toasted nori (I got this from my local organic supermarket)
- 2 (4-inch) squares dasima or kombu (dried kelp) - again available at most Asian supermarkets and organic shops
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 500g rigatoni
- 1 ½ cups double cream
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 200g fresh green asparagus, thinly sliced at an angle
- Flaky sea salt, for serving
- Fold the toasted nori sheets in half and, with very sharp kitchen shears or a chef’s knife, slice into thin strips.
- Set aside for serving.
- In a large pot, combine 1 Kombu square with 8 cups cold tap water.
- Bring the water to a boil and season with the kosher salt.
- Tumble in the pasta and cook for half the time the package tells you is al dente.
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
- Drain the pasta, then add it back to the pot. (Discard the Kombu.)
- Add the remaining Kombu square, cream, red onion, garlic, black pepper and reserved pasta water to the pasta.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta until the onion-infused cream has thickened significantly, thinly coating the noodles, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Turn off the heat.
- Add the vinegar and asparagus, and stir to combine for 1 minute.
- The residual heat from the pasta will gently cook the asparagus to tender-crisp.
- Divide the pasta among serving dishes, discarding the Kombu, and top with the reserved nori strips and a big sprinkle of flaky sea salt.
- Serve immediately, before the nori wilts and turns soggy.