Simpler is often better, and that’s the case here. This recipe makes a quick, easy, and elegant meal. As usual, we recommend whole wheat or gluten-free pasta. Any shape will do, but we prefer this dish made with bow ties.
Prepare pasta according to package instructions, or fill a large saucepan about half full of water and add salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 to 9 minutes.
Remove 1/4 cup cooking liquids and set aside for later. Drain pasta then return to saucepan and cover to keep warm.
While preparing pasta, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and stir continually until fragrant and just turning golden. Transfer to a small plate or bowl to cool.
Grate, shred, or shave fresh Parmesan cheese and set aside.
Mince garlic. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring frequently 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand while you continue.
Trim asparagus spears by cutting off and discarding the bottom one-third or one-half, leaving the top 6 to 8 inches. Slice across asparagus spears on the diagonal into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Add asparagus and water to skillet and return to medium-low heat. Stir, then cover and steam, 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp-tender.
Add asparagus mixture to pasta in the saucepan, along with reserved pasta liquids. Toss to combine. Heat over low until water has been absorbed.