This Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Pasta dish just screams springtime for me. Despite being an avowed-asparagus hater as a child, I have really come to enjoy it as an adult. I love to see the bunches of white, green, and purple asparagus appear at the farmers’ markets in the spring. It’s like a message saying yes, you can put away your winter coats! Asparagus can be prepared in the simplest ways: roasted with olive oil and salt, or grilled outside when the weather is nice enough. So when it comes to featuring asparagus in a pasta dish, it needs only a few accompaniments.
In this recipe, I sauté the asparagus lightly, while cooking a pot of pasta. Then I build a sauce using just some cooking water, crème fraîche, and lemon juice. All that remains is tossing the pasta and asparagus together, along with some chopped smoked salmon. The result is fresh, bright, and creamy—and showcases the springtime glory of asparagus. This pasta dish is an elegant main course perfect for a special occasion dinner or for a celebration, but is easy enough for an everyday meal. Add it to your repertoire for when those asparagus spears first start appearing at the market—that’s reason enough to celebrate.
How Do You Make Salmon and Asparagus Pasta?
Rinse 1 pound of asparagus spears and pat dry. Snap off or cut off the bottom inch or so of the stems. If you are working with thick asparagus stalks, peel the outside layer of skin with a vegetable peeler.
Then slice stalks into 2-inch chunks—cut in half horizontally any stalk pieces that are more than a finger-width in thickness.
Mince 1 garlic clove. Chop 4.25 ounces of smoked salmon into bite-sized pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add asparagus and cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring frequently. When done, asparagus will be crisp-tender and starting to brown. Cook time will vary quite a bit based on the thickness of the asparagus stalks. If you are using asparagus with very thick stalks, you can cover the skillet to shorten cook time, but continue to lift every minute or two to stir.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add enough dried pasta for 4 people and cook until al dente, following instructions on pasta package. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water. Drain pasta and return to pan. Stir in 2.5 ounces of crème fraîche, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest. Gradually add a couple of tablespoons of cooking water, stirring gently. If pasta is not saucy enough, add more cooking water.
Stir in asparagus, then gently stir in smoked salmon. If your pasta (or pan) is still quite hot, you may want to serve the pasta with just the asparagus stirred in. Then add the smoked salmon on top, so that the texture of the salmon isn’t altered by stirring it into the hot pasta. Garnish with chives, and serve with lemon wedges. If you wanted to dollop a little more crème fraîche on top, I wouldn’t stop you.
Can You Make this Salmon Asparagus Pasta Dish in Advance?
I would not recommend making this cold smoked salmon dish in advance. The pasta will soak up all of the sauce quickly, and will become dry the longer it sits. In addition, if you have already stirred in the smoked salmon, you will change its texture as you reheat the pasta. Finally, asparagus tends to go from bright to dull green after cooking. So this dish really is best made à la minute (prepared and then served immediately). That said, you will save yourself a good amount of time if you can prep your garlic, asparagus, salmon, and chives in advance. And, should you have leftovers, I’d highly recommend adding a spoonful of crème fraîche on top and heating up just to barely warm rather than hot.
Cold Smoked Salmon vs. Hot Smoked Salmon
Salmon can be hot-smoked or cold-smoked. In this recipe, I’m using cold smoked salmon, but either type would actually work fine. Cold smoked salmon has a silky texture, and not much of a smoky flavor. Hot smoked salmon, on the other hand, has a flaky texture and a much smokier flavor. Hot smoked salmon is cooked at over 120 degrees for at least 30 minutes, and up to 12 hours. During that process, the salmon is fully cooked. Cold smoked salmon is not fully cooked, as it is smoked at a much lower temperature. However, the salmon is first salted before being smoked, which kills parasites and helps prevent the growth of food poisoning-causing microbes. As a result, unless your doctor advises you to avoid raw fish, it’s safe to eat both kinds of smoked salmon.
When is Asparagus Season?
Asparagus is a spring vegetable, grown and eaten almost world-wide. Farmers harvest asparagus early in the growing process, as the stalks become quite woody as the asparagus plant grows. The age of the plant can be determined by the thickness of the stems—older stalks are thicker than young ones. Asparagus can be relatively expensive to buy, since it is usually available for just a short season. That said, some UK growers are experimenting with growing asparagus in polythene tunnels which allow them to extend the growing season from February through late fall.
Is Asparagus Good for You?
Yes, asparagus is low in calories and fat but contains several essential vitamins and minerals. Asparagus is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, folate, and fiber. It also contains smaller amounts of potassium, phosphorus, and Vitamin E. Nutritional content varies slightly between the various types of asparagus, including white, green, and purple. For example, purple asparagus includes anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant shown to reduce blood pressure.
How to Store Asparagus
Store asparagus in the refrigerator. It will last at least a few days in the crisper drawer if you keep it loosely wrapped in a produce bag. To extend its shelf life, you can wrap a damp paper towel around the bottom of the stalks before putting back into the bag. If the asparagus stalks come wrapped in a rubber band, keep the band there to hold the stalks together. To store asparagus for a week or more, trim about an inch from the ends, then place stalks upright in a jar filled with about an inch of water. Then cover loosely with a plastic bag, and keep in the refrigerator. Change the water if it begins to look cloudy.
How To Trim Asparagus
If you have young, thin asparagus stems, all you need to do to trim the asparagus is to snap off the very bottom of each stalk. It should break easily, and you can discard the bottom. Older, thicker asparagus stalks will be woodier than young thin ones. You can snap off the very bottom the same way, but then you will need to peel the skin. That will at least remove the top layer that is a bit tough to chew through.
How to Freeze Asparagus
The best way to freeze asparagus is to blanch it first. First, prep your asparagus by rinsing and trimming off the woody ends. Peel the stalks if the asparagus is quite thick. Next, bring a pot of water to a boil and add the asparagus. Depending on how thick your asparagus stalks are, blanch them for between 1-3 minutes. They will turn bright green. Next, drain and rinse with very cold water (or place directly in an ice bath after draining). Pat dry, then package in freezer bags before putting into the freezer.
Other Delicious Salmon Recipes
Salmon is one of my favorite fish to eat, though I do try to save it for special occasion meals. For example, my Salmon Wellington recipe is a show-stopper of a dish that you should really try if you love salmon. For a more everyday splurge, check out my recipe for Panko Crusted Salmon Fillets. And should you find yourself with extra cold smoked salmon, please go immediately to my recipe for Smoked Salmon Potato Chips with Everything Bagel Seasoning. One of my favorite (and easiest!) appetizers of all time!
Other Delicious Pasta Recipes
If only we could live on pasta alone, right? I love it, and the creamier the better. If you’re with me, you may want to check out my Creamy Spinach Artichoke Pasta or my Creamy Orzo Chicken with Red Peppers and Mushrooms. If you’re looking for lighter flavors, don’t miss one of my favorite pasta salads ever: Orzo Pasta Salad with Black Beans and Corn.
- 1 lb. asparagus
- 1 clove garlic
- 120g (4.25 oz.) cold smoked salmon
- 1 T. olive oil
- 250g (8.8 oz.) dried pasta
- 70g (2.5 oz.) crème fraîche
- 2 T. lemon juice
- 1/2 t. lemon zest
- 1/2 t. kosher salt
- 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T. chopped chives, to garnish
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Rinse asparagus and pat dry.
- Snap off or cut off the bottom inch or so of the stems. If you are working with thick asparagus stalks, peel the outside layer of skin with a vegetable peeler. Then slice stalks into 2-inch chunks—cut in half horizontally any stalk pieces that are more than a finger-width in thickness.
- Mince garlic clove.
- Chop cold smoked salmon into bite-sized pieces.
- Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat.
- Add minced garlic and stir for 1 minute.
- Add asparagus and cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring frequently. When done, asparagus will be crisp-tender and starting to brown. Cook time will vary quite a bit based on the thickness of the asparagus stalks. If you are using asparagus with very thick stalks, you can cover the skillet to shorten cook time, but continue to lift every minute or two to stir.
- Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.
- Add pasta and cook until al dente, following instructions on pasta package. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.
- Drain pasta and return to pan.
- Stir in crème fraîche, lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper.
- Gradually add a couple of tablespoons of cooking water, stirring gently. If pasta is not saucy enough, add more cooking water.
- Stir in asparagus, then gently stir in smoked salmon. If your pasta (or pan) is still quite hot, you may want to serve the pasta with just the asparagus stirred in. Then add the smoked salmon on top, so that the texture of the salmon isn’t altered by stirring it into the hot pasta.
- Garnish with chives, and serve with lemon wedges. If you wanted to add an extra dollop of creme fraiche on top, I wouldn't stop you.
Substitute sour cream or greek yogurt for the crème fraîche if need be. You can also feel free to use hot smoked salmon in this recipe instead of cold smoked salmon, though the texture of the salmon will be different.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 138Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 734mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 9g
Nutrition information is provided as a general reference for users courtesy of the online nutrition calculator Nutritionix.