Creamy Ham and Asparagus Pasta

Creamy ham and asparagus pasta is a delicious meal for any night of the week. This quick dinner cooks up in the same time that it takes to boil the pasta and yet is decadent and delicious.

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Creamy ham and asparagus pasta in a blue and white bowl on a white wooden table, a glass of rose wine, salt and pepper.

Quick and Easy Pasta Dinner

This creamy ham and asparagus pasta is the sort of meal that becomes a favorite. It’s a restaurant quality dinner that would keep you going back to the same bistro again and again just to enjoy it one more time. Good news… you don’t have to go anywhere but your kitchen!

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Ingredients on a counter - ham, pasta, asparagus, an onion, lemon, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese.

What Pasta Shape Should I Use?

One of the best things about this recipe is that everything cooks in the time it takes to boil the pasta. That is, if you use a pasta that has a cooking time of ten minutes or more. I like to serve this on spaghetti because it usually takes about 12 minutes – plenty of time for me to get everything else cooked – and the long noodles are the perfect shape to take advantage of the creamy sauce. Whichever shape you choose, make sure to cook the pasta properly in lots of boiling salted water. (Click here to read more about how to cook pasta properly and how to choose a good pasta.)

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Hands breaking a spear of asparagus over a cutting board.

How to Trim Asparagus

All asparagus is thicker at one end and that thick end can be more fibrous and tougher than the rest. Generally, you need to trim the bottom of asparagus stalks, but how much should you cut off? A good way to judge where the stalk begins to toughen is to hold the asparagus at both ends and bend it. It will break at a natural point where the more fibrous stalk begins. Use one stalk as your measure and cut the rest to match its length. 

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Asparagus chopped on a wooden cutting board.

How to Cut Asparagus for Pasta

Even with the stalks trimmed, asparagus will be thicker at one end. To compensate for this gradual thickening, cut off the heads of the asparagus on the bias and then slice the remaining stalks into lengths getting smaller as the stem gets thicker. That will help the asparagus pieces to cook more evenly.

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Ham, onion and asparagus in a large sauté pan.

How to Cook Asparagus for Pasta

This recipe starts by sautéing the onion and then adding the asparagus pieces. Our goal is to cook the asparagus until it is tender, but maintain its beautiful green color. Give the vegetable a couple of minutes in the pan and then add some water, cover the pan and steam it until it is tender – about another 4 minutes or so. The water will evaporate and steam the asparagus perfectly.

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Creamy ham and asparagus pasta in a large stainless steel skillet

Creamy Pasta

To make the pasta sauce creamy and delicious, add the heavy cream. There’s no need to reduce the cream – just heat it until it has been warmed through and add your hot drained pasta to the pan. The pasta will continue to absorb liquid, so you will need to thin the sauce with some of the reserved pasta water to suit your tastes. If you wanted to make a lighter version of this recipe, you could omit the cream, add the pasta and loosen with some of the reserved pasta water. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil instead. It won’t feel quite as decadent, but it will still be delicious and one of the fastest pasta dinners you’ve ever made.

Featured Recipe Techniques

More about the skills used in this recipe.

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How to Cook Pasta

Cooking pasta is something that pretty much everyone knows how to cook - boil water, add pasta. However, there are...View Technique

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Creamy Ham and Asparagus Pasta

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 12 m
  • Total Time: 22 m
  • Servings:
    2

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces dried spaghetti (or other pasta)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion (1 medium onion)
  • ½ bunch asparagus sliced 1½-inches on the bias
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ - ½ cup water
  • ¼ pound thinly sliced or shaved ham
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • zest of ½ lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Once at a rolling boil, drop in the dried spaghetti and cook according to the package directions – usually 12 minutes. Continue with the rest of the recipe while the pasta cooks.
  2. Pre-heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and sauté the onion for 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to soften.
  3. Add the asparagus and sauté for a couple of minutes. Pour in ¼ to ½ cup of water, cover and let the asparagus steam with the onions.
  4. Uncover, add the ham and cook on low heat for about 2 minutes. Pour in the cream and leave the pan on the heat just until the cream has been warmed through. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
  5. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water and then drain the pasta. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, combining with the other ingredients. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to achieve the desired sauce consistency – between ¼ and ½ cup. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Serve the pasta with lemon zest sprinkled on top.
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