(Mass Appeal) – We’re sharing a linguine pasta dish that’s perfect for early Spring. Sometimes we have temperatures in the 30s. Others, like we’re seeing this week, are in the 70s. So no matter the weather, this dish is sure to be ideal and cookbook author and chef Betty Rosbottom is here to show us how it’s made.

Linguine in Taleggio Sauce with Asparagus and Pancetta

1/2 cup fresh coarse breadcrumbs, or commercial ones such as panko
2 teaspoons olive oil plus 1 tablespoon for the pancetta
4-ounce package diced pancetta
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves plus 11/2 teaspoons for garnish (See cooking tip.)
4 thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
8 ounces Taleggio cheese, either chilled or frozen for 20 minutes, rind trimmed and discarded and cheese cut into 1/2-inch pieces (See cooking tip)
1 pound linguine
1 pound slim asparagus, 3 to 4 inches of tough bases snapped off and discarded, and spears trimmed on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces

1. For the breadcrumbs, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil until hot in a medium, heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until crisp and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes or less. Watch carefully so they do not burn. (Breadcrumbs can be stored in a self-sealing plastic bag and refrigerated, 4 days ahead.)

2. For the sauce, in a medium, heavy saucepan set over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until hot, and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, until the pieces are golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes or more. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; set aside for the garnish. If fat has been rendered during the cooking, discard all but about 1 teaspoon of it, leaving brown bits in the pan. Add half-and-half and return the pan to medium heat. Add the cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Stir in 3 teaspoons of fresh thyme, and then remove pan from heat and set aside. (Sauce can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cool, cover with a lid or with a sheet of aluminum foil, and leave at room temperature. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat when ready to continue.)

3. To cook pasta, fill a large pot 2/3 full with water and set it over high heat. Bring to a boil and add 3 teaspoons salt and linguine. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Add the asparagus pieces to the pot 3 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Drain the pasta and the asparagus in a colander, and then return them to the pot in which they were cooked. Pour the sauce into the pot, and toss to coat the linguine and asparagus well. Taste and season with salt as needed.

4. For serving, using tongs, divide pasta and asparagus among 4 shallow bowls. Sprinkle each serving with pancetta, fresh chopped thyme, and 1 tablespoon of the toasted breadcrumbs. If using, garnish each serving with a thyme sprig. Pass any extra breadcrumbs in a small bowl with a spoon. Serves 4 as a main course.

Cooking Tip: Fresh thyme adds considerably to the flavor of this dish. Packages are available in the produce aisles of many groceries. If you can’t find fresh thyme, you can substitute 2 teaspoons dried for the 3 teaspoons called for in the sauce and omit the thyme for the garnishes.

Cooking Tip: Taleggio is a smooth and creamy cow’s milk cheese imported from Italy. Taleggio’s smell is stronger than its mild taste and tang. Taleggio, which melts fairly easily, can be found in many gourmet cheese shops or grocery stores. If you cannot find Taleggio, a good substitute would be imported Italian fontina.