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Asparagus Affection

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I was recently feasting on an asparagus and pea shoot salad with Canuck as I proclaimed, “I really think Spring is my favorite food season. I will be so sad when it’s over.” He quickly reminded me of the existence of tomatoes, and then I felt better. Still, I will deeply miss the abundance of perfect asparagus that I have been enjoying nearly every day for the past several weeks. Some of my favorite recent renditions of asparagus include: a delicious Fatted Calf sandwich with prosciutto, ricotta and lemon oil; fired up over a charcoal grill with sea salt and cracked pepper; blanched and served with a simple lemon aioli; and shaved with Parmigiano, Meyer lemon, poached egg and crispy lonza (thanks Oenotri for offering some fresh veggies on your brunch menu).

But my favorite asparagus-themed meal that I have come across this Spring is (of course) a Bon Appetit recipe that my mother turned me onto. I’ve had it once at the hands of my mother and have now made it twice for friends with a couple slight tweaks that I think improve on the recipe.

A sight to behold

A sight to behold

Pasta with Peas, Asparagus, Escarole and Speck (serves 6 to 8)

  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • 2 TB extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzlingIMG_5533
  • ½ lb spring onions; white parts cut into ¼-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 2 TB minced shallot
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 ½ pounds thick asparagus, cut crosswise into ¾-inch pieces
  • 2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 2 pounds peas in pods) or 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 pound campanelle or gemelli pasta (I prefer the locally made Baia pasta)
  • 1 head of escarole, cored, leaves cut into ¾-inch-wide slices
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano plus additional for serving
  • ½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced speck, cut crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips

The original recipe calls for butter lettuce, but I think escarole has more flavor and texture. It also calls for prosciutto – which is delicious and I encourage you to use it if you can’t find speck – but speck offers a bit of smokiness to the dish that compliments the flavors nicely (credit to Space Cadet for the suggestion).

Delicious speck from Fatted Calf

Delicious speck from Fatted Calf

I've used fresh shelled and frozen peas for this recipe and the difference is minimal

I’ve used fresh shelled and frozen peas for this recipe and the difference is minimal

Melt the butter with 2 TB of oil in heavy large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onions and shallot and sprinkle with coarse salt and cracked pepper. Sauté until tender (do not brown), about 8 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook asparagus until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. After 2 minutes add the peas and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer asparagus and peas to large bowl of ice water. Drain vegetables and set aside.
IMG_5532
Return water in pot to boil. Cook pasta until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, reheat onion mixture. Add drained asparagus and peas and stir until heated through. Then add pasta, 1 cup Pecorino Romano, escarole and parsley. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by the ¼ cup if dry. Once the pasta has reached your desired consistency, add the speck and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.

IMG_5535
Transfer pasta to large shallow bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Serve, passing more cheese alongside. This dish pairs nicely with a medium-bodied red blend, a Provençal style Rosé, or a coastal Chardonnay.

Perfectly Poached

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All week long I have been fantasizing about poached eggs. It is by far my favorite way to eat an egg, however I’ve never actually cooked them this way – just ordered at restaurants. After talking to some foodie friends and doing some online research, I discovered a blog with thorough directions to cooking the perfect poached egg. I was so excited to make my poached eggs! But I had nothing in the house to pair them with – not even some bread. So this morning I popped into the farm stand down the street and picked up a bunch of asparagus, prosciutto, and a lemon. I proceeded to create the perfect poached egg meal.

 

  • 8 asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 TB whole wheat panko bread crumbs (or regular bread crumbs)
  • 2 oz of prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • salt & pepper to taste

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, arrange asparagus spears in a banking pan. Toss with olive oil, and add garlic, bread crumbs and a dash of salt and pepper. Once the oven is heated, cook for ten minutes, tossing once half way through. Once the asparagus is cooked, transfer to a plate and top with pieces of prosciutto.

While the asparagus is cooking, heat a large pot with about 1-2 inches of water and add the white vinegar. You do not want to heat to a boil, but the point of bubbling right before it starts to boil. If the water boils, lower the heat to bring it back down to a lower temperature.

Crack each egg into a separate, smaller dish. This will make it easier to transfer into the pot.

Once the water is ready, slowly slide each egg into the pot, using a rubber spatula to keep the whites around the yolk. If the egg sticks to the bottom of the pan, use the spatula to lift it up a bit. Cook the eggs like this for about three minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Top the asparagus and prosciutto with the eggs, salt and pepper, and lemon zest.

When devouring this dish, I would aim to get the perfect bite with every spoonful: a piece of asparagus, a slice of prosciutto, and some egg. YUM!

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Ricotta and Prosciutto

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MM participated in his favorite triathlon event this past Saturday, the “Tri For Fun” Sprint in Shadow Cliffs Regional Park in Pleasanton, CA. I actually did this event last July, and it was so much fun! The “sprint” means it’s short distances: 400 meter swim, 11 mile bike and 3.1 mile run. They don’t time you, and your results aren’t recorded anywhere. It’s just a great way to introduce people of all ages and athletic abilities to the sport of triathlon. Saturday was the fifth time that MM has “competed” in this event, and he actually came in first place this time! This is the first race he has ever won in his career of swimming, biking and running. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to see him cross the finish line because I had to be in Napa on Saturday (stay tuned for a post on that). So to make it up to him that I would be missing his fifth Tri For Fun (unbeknownst that he would actually win it), I made a delicious meal for him on Friday night including his two favorite things: pasta and croutons.

Arugula tossed with with croutons, lemon, olive oil and parmesan.

My crouton recipe has appeared numerous times throughout my blog, so I won’t rehash it now. But I will say that I think ciabatta bread makes the best croutons, next to French sweet baguette. However, this pasta recipe is a relatively new addition to my collection.

  • 1/2 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-ine pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 2/3 cup low fat ricotta cheese
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated parmesan for serving (optional)

Prepare all of your ingredients and arrange on a cutting board. The sauce only takes about 6 minutes to prepare, so you want to time it out so that the pasta is ready when the sauce is done. Therefore, begin by boiling a large pot of water for the pasta. Once the water has boiled and you’ve added the orecchiette, you can start the sauce.

Heat a large skillet with olive oil over a medium flame. Add the asparagus and saute for about 3 minutes, or until they soften a little. For this recipe, thin asparagus might work better. I couldn’t find thin asparagus, so I slit thick asparagus down the middle (lengthwise) to make it easier to cook and eat.

Once the asparagus have softened, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for about 1 minute, making sure the garlic does not burn. Lower the heat and add the chicken broth, ricotta, lemon zest and prosciutto. Stir well to combine and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add to the pan with the sauce. Toss to combine, adding the pasta water little by little if it’s too dry. Serve with parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Both MM and I love this dish! The ricotta works well to thicken the sauce, and the combination of prosciutto and asparagus is delicious without being overly rich. I would recommend serving this dish with an elegant Chardonnay – not too buttery, but definitely something with a hint of Oak. Trefethen, Saddleback Cellars, and JAQK Cellars “Pearl Handle” are all great choices.

Congrats to MM on winning his first ever triathlon! I’m sure it will be the first of many.

A Meal Fit for a Birthday Queen

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Last night I celebrated Easter with MM and his family at their home in the Peninsula. We were also celebrating the birthday of MM’s mother, which is today. As part of the celebration, MM and I planned to cook dinner while his mother sat back and relaxed on her birthday. In actuality, MM helped a little with the crouton prep (but did most of the cleaning of the dishes with his father and brother) and his mother helped me with some of the other prep. That being said, the whole meal was pretty easy to put together and it turned out great. Two of the recipes I had never done before, but I will definitely be making again!

The Menu

Baby Arugula Salad with Ciabatta Croutons and Fresh Lemon

Sauteed Asparagus with Sea Salt and Basil

Roasted Tri-Colored Baby Potatoes with Fennel and Garlic (new!)

Baked Salmon with Pesto, Parmesan and Tomatoes (new!)

The Wine

2009 Failla Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of tri-colored potatoes (we got from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 head of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil (used in all the dishes)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 large fillet of salmon, cut into smaller individual pieces
  • 3/4 cup homemade spinach pesto (if you don’t have time to make your own pesto, or you don’t have the means to, buy a good-quality pesto from your local grocery store)
  • olive oil spray
  • 1-2 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 loaf of Ciabatta bread (fresh or 1 day old, used for croutons)
  • 2 bunches of thick asparagus
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bag of baby arugula, pre-washed or washed
  • ground black pepper
  • sea salt
  • garlic salt (for croutons)

If making this meal as a whole (which I suggest you do), start with the potatoes because those will take the longest to cook. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After lightly scrubbing each potato, quarter each one lengthwise and placed into a large bowl. Add about 1 TB EVOO and toss with 8 cloves of peeled garlic, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, and a little sea salt. Transfer to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum or sprayed with olive oil, with the flat side facing down (each potato has two flat sides to pick the one with most surface area). Place into oven for about 45 minutes, checking for doneness with a fork. If the potatoes are tender enough for your fork to easily go through, they’re probably done. You can also taste one to be sure, but be careful because they’re hot!

While the potatoes are in the oven, you can get started on cutting the bread for the croutons. Ciabatta croutons work best for the arugula salad, and you only need about half a loaf. Slice the bread in half through the inside, then slice each half into 1-inch thick strips, and slice the strips into squares. Heat a large skillet with 2-3 TB of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add 4 cloves of peeled garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, toss in the bread coating each piece with the olive oil. Add a few shakes of garlic salt and toss frequently (but not constantly) over medium-low heat so they do not brown. When they have reached your desired crispiness, transfer to a sealed tupperware or wrap in a couple layers of aluminum foil to keep warm.

While you’re keeping an eye on your croutons, you can begin to prep the salmon. To help it cook more evenly, cut the salmon filet into 5-6 smaller pieces, leaving the skin on. Coat a baking pan with olive oil spray and place the salmon on top, skin side down. Spray each fillet with a little olive oil and lightly salt and pepper each one. Add about 1 TB of pesto to each piece of salmon, spreading it evenly over the top. Sprinkle about 1/2 TB of freshly grated Parmesan over each piece, top with tomato slices, and add another 1/2 TB of parmesan over the tomato. Bake in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes, checking to make sure each piece is cooked through completely.

By now your croutons should be finished, so you can use the same pan to cook the asparagus while the salmon and potatoes are finishing up in the oven. There are two different kinds of asparagus: thick and thin. I prefer the thick kind because they keep their crispiness better and are more filling so you don’t need to make as many. You really don’t need to do a lot to asparagus with seasoning, and the flavors of the croutons will also rub off on the asparagus if you use the same pan. Just spray with olive oil and saute over medium heat, adding a little sea salt and dried basil. Cook them for about 10-15 minutes, or until they have browned and are cooked through (taste to make sure they have desired doneness).

The last thing to do is assemble your salad, which should only take a minute. Do this right before you are about to serve dinner so the salad doesn’t get soggy. Add about 1/4 cup or less of of shredded parmesan, juice of one lemon, light salt and pepper, and a little olive oil (no more than 1 TB) and toss together. Add the croutons and toss again, then it’s ready to serve. I saved a handful of croutons for MM to have as a “side dish”, since that’s what he originally requested when I asked what we should make besides salmon.

If you’ve timed the meal correctly, the asparagus, salmon and potatoes should all finish at the same time. If the potatoes are done before the salmon, just cover them with aluminum and keep warm before transferring to a serving dish. Cut into the salmon at the thickest part with a fork or knife to make sure it’s done (it should be). For us, the salmon cooked perfectly in the 20 minutes in the oven, and it tasted fantastic! The combination of the pesto, parmesan and tomato worked deliciously with the salmon, and the garlic and basil that was used in the other dishes really brought everything together for one cohesive meal.

I opted to bring the Failla Pinot Noir because I had been saving it for a special occasion, and I thought it would be a nice, light red wine to pair with the salmon. I was right. The wine had aged only a couple of years, but it was the perfect amount of time to soften the spice and bring out the full fruit flavor. People think you have to serve white wine with fish, but with a hearty meal like this I think a light red is the better option. All in all, tt was the perfect addition to the meal.

MM’s mother also made a delicious strawberry shortcake for dessert (my favorite), but alas there are no photos because I gobbled it up too quickly. One of these days I will try my hand at baking, but until then I’ll let the people who know what they’re doing handle the dessert.

More Fittata, Please

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This morning I made a delicious frittata for myself and my friends. I think it’s becoming one of my favorite brunch items to make, because it’s so easy, cheap, and always different from the last one. Since Lactard was at the brunch, I decided to use goat cheese in this particular frittata. The goat cheese gave the frittata a softer texture, which I loved.

  • 1 dozen eggs (I used 9 whole eggs, and 3 whites), whisked
  • 1 bunch of basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups of spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz plain goat cheese, crumbled
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 8-10 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 Campari tomatoes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients and set aside.

Use a large cast-iron or ceramic pan (or something that is oven-safe) to cook the vegetables. Place the pan over a medium flame and heat the oil. Add the garlic and the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes or until they start to soften. Add the pepper and asparagus and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and continue to sauté for 2 more minutes.

 

Add the egg mixture to the pan and stir lightly to combine the ingredients. Let the eggs set for about two minutes. Place the pan into the oven, uncovered, and cook for fifteen minutes or until the eggs have cooked (time may vary based on oven).

Check it a few times to make sure the eggs are not runny on the top. When you take it out of the oven, there will still be a little liquid on top, but that’s okay because it will continue to cook when you take it out of the oven.

Let the frittata rest for a couple of minutes before cutting into slices. Serve with sliced hearty bread (warmed in the oven, of course) and bacon or chicken sausage. These portions serve 6 or 8 people, but you can refrigerate leftovers and reheat in the oven for 5-7 minutes at 275 degrees, or in the microwave for 2 minutes.

Orzo with Scallops, Asparagus and Okra

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This is one of my favorite light pasta recipes – perfect for a warm winter night, like every night in San Francisco. I first created it almost a year ago when I made dinner for a friend that I was visiting in Brooklyn during a work trip to New York (which is also my hometown). I’ve made a few alterations over the last year, but it’s generally the same as the first time – and just as delicious!

INGREDIENTS
(serves two)

  • 1 cup of okra (about 15 pieces)
  • half a bunch of asparagus
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 TB EVOO
  • 1 TB grape seed oil
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 10 sea scallops (frozen or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup of basil
  • S&P to taste

PREPARATION

  1. If you’re using frozen sea scallops, defrost them. Run them under cold water for about 7-10 minutes.
  2. Boil a medium pot of water.
  3. Trim the ends off the okra, and slice into thirds.
  4. Snap the stems off the asparagus, and cut the remaining spear into one inch size pieces.
  5. Heat the EVOO in a medium sized skillet. Add the garlic and sauté to brown.
  6. Add the okra and asparagus to the skillet and sauté under medium heat for about 5 minutes, then lower heat to medium low and stir occasionally.
  7. Add the orzo to the boiling water, and stir occasionally.
  8. Heat the grape seed oil in a small skillet. Once heated, add the scallops.
  9. Cook scallops for about 4 minutes on each side, seasoning with light salt and pepper. Ideal cooking time is when they begin to brown on both sides.
  10. Once orzo is cooked, add to medium skillet with okra and asparagus.
  11. Add the juice of half the lemon, and the zest from the whole lemon.
  12. Add the scallops and S&P to taste, and stir to combine.
  13. Serve with basil sprinkled on, and shaved parmesan (if you like).

I usually enjoy this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc or white blend. Tonight I had it with the Hop Kiln Thousand Flowers white wine that I purchased in Healdsburg a few weeks ago. The stone fruit flavors and citrus qualities balance nicely with the lemon in the dish. You could also try it with a Chardonnay. I would suggest a Chardonnay aged in French oak, such as the 2009 Trefethen Chardonnay. Slightly mineral with citrus and green apple flavors, the Chardonnay will pair well with the lemon zest and the buttery, rich flavor in the scallops.

Cheers, and enjoy!

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