2 or 3 shallots, finely sliced, or half of a small yellow onion, finely diced
2-4 slices of pancetta, chopped
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 lb. (115g) Feta cheese
Zest of one lemon
4 cups (960ml) Chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
2 tablespoons (30ml) Olive Oil
Prepare the asparagus: Snap off the woody ends. Cut each stalk into angled pieces roughly the length and shape of the pasta. Keep the tips separate from the stalks once you have cut them, as you will add them to the pasta at different times later.
Prepare the pancetta: Put olive oil in a saucepan with tall sides over medium-high heat (I use a 4-quart saucepan for this amount of pasta). Once the oil has heated up, cook the pancetta to render the fat and crisp it up. Remove from the saucepan and and set it aside.
Cooking the pasta: Add the sliced shallots to the pan and sauté until they start to soften, a minute or less. Add in the dry pasta and stir it around for one minute to coat it in the oil and shallots, toasting the pasta a little bit. Keep an eye on the shallots to make sure they aren’t burning.
Pour in 2.5 or 3 cups (600-720ml) of chicken stock and give it a good stir (the pasta should be nearly covered). Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to keep it from boiling. Cook for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally.When the pasta is about half done, stir in the asparagus stalks. Stir more frequently for two minutes as the stock cooks away, careful not to break the pasta. You might need another splash of stock; you don’t want the pan to dry out all the way. When the pasta seems to be getting close to done—test frequently!—add the asparagus tips.
Cook another minute or two, stirring constantly, until al dente. Since this dish holds the heat and the pasta keeps cooking a little once you’ve removed it from the heat, you should err on the side of less—rather than more—cooked.
You should still have some thickened broth at the bottom of the pan; as you toss the pasta to season it this will coat everything and make it silky instead of sticky.
Remove from the heat and stir in half of the pancetta and three-quarters of the lemon zest. Season to taste, but remember that you’ll be adding salty feta on top.
Serve: Top each portion with crumbled feta, pancetta, and lemon zest.