Asparagus and Ricotta Penne

Recently, at the age of forty-nine, I had braces put on my teeth. Or should I say little personalized torture devices? I am in the early stages of living with a host of metal in my mouth and it's a little uncomfortable to be sure. There are some positive aspects to living with braces, aside from the fact that my teeth will be perfect - right? - when the braces come off. I can no longer bite my nails, nor can I use my teeth to tear and knash at inanimate objects. Potato chips have lost their allure and there is less snacking and more eating of regular meals. Braces also mean less meat and more vegetables. I've even lost a little weight. Two years from now, when the braces come off, I will surely be pleased, but in the meantime I try and make my new soft food diet as varied as possible.

Pasta is soft, it is my new friend, along with slow-roasted vegetables. This east-to-make dish incorporates both.

Try it with a cool glass of Chardonnay. Cono Sur and Santa Maria make nice versions from Chile. Or Bonterra, from California, is a nice option. If Chardonnay isn't your thing, a crisp glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would work well with the asparagus.

Asparagus and Ricotta Penne

4 cups dried penne

1 bundle asparagus

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup baby tomatoes, halved

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 cup white wine

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan

dash of cayene

1 tbsp each: dried oregano, dried tarragon

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh oregano, minced (or basil, or both)

-clean the vegetables and lay them on a roasting pan with a splash of olive oil; roast for 30 minutes at 350 degrees

-put a few quarts of generously salted water on to boil for the pasta

-in the meantime sautèe the onion and garlic in a large pan, with another splash of olive oil, until soft; add the dried herbs, cayenne, salt and pepper

-remove the vegetables from the oven, dice the asparagus and add to the onion and garlic mix; add the wine and allow to simmer for a few minutes

-cook the penne until it's done to your liking (I find I have to bite into a piece to really tell)

-once the pasta is done, reserve a cup of the cooking water and then drain the noodles

-toss the pasta in with the vegetable mix, add the ricotta and parmesan to heat through

-you may want to add a little of the pasta water here if things look dry

-at the last minute, toss in the fresh herbs

-serve with a final sprinkling of grated parmesan

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