In Italy, pasta is served as a first course, or primo, with a protein course to follow as a secondo. Here is a modern treatment for pasta in which the two courses meet on the same plate at the same time. Farfalle are ideal for this dish; they are not only pretty, but capture the light sauce in their folds.
Farfalle with Salmon & Asparagus
1 lb. (500 g.) asparagus, preferably pencil-thin
Kosher salt for cooking asparagus and pasta
6 Tbs. (3 fl. oz./90 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 bunches green onions, including 3 inches (7.5 cm.) of green tops, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb. (500 g.) center-cut, skin-on salmon fillet, trimmed of any fat and cut into 4-6 equal pieces
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb. (500 g.) farfalle
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C).
Trim off the tough ends of the asparagus, then cut crosswise into 2 or 3 pieces, keeping the tips intact.
In a large pot, bring 5 qt. (5 l.) water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and the asparagus and boil until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Just before the asparagus is done, in a frying pan large enough to accommodate the pasta later, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the green onions and red pepper flakes. Using a wire skimmer or sieve, scoop out the asparagus and add to the pan with the green onions. Toss the ingredients together and saute until the asparagus pieces are tender, 1-2 minutes. They should not be crunchy. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. Reserve the water in the pot.
While the asparagus is cooking, place a baking sheet on the lower rack in the oven. Make 4 or 5 shallow slashes about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) apart on the skin side of each salmon piece, being careful not to cut into the flesh. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, then brush the flesh sides evenly with the mustard and then with olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and carefully place the salmon pieces, skin side down, on the baking sheet. Roast until the thickest part of each piece is opaque at the center when cut into with a paring knife, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 125 degrees F (52 degrees C), 9-13 minutes.
While the salmon is cooking, return the reserved water to a rapid boil, add the pasta, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, according to package directions.
Drain the pasta, add to the sauce in the pan, and toss until well combined. Transfer to warmed individual shallow bowls and arrange a salmon piece on top of each portion. Serve right away. Serves 4-6.