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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.
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.

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.


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A few months ago my friend/fellow wino (a.k.a. Starry) and I came up with a plan to visit Anderson Valley for a weekend of wine tasting. We started to look at lodging options and found a few cheap motels in Ukiah (too far), some nice B&Bs in Mendocino (too expensive), and a few airbnb options for a rustic cabin in the woods. We were intrigued by the cabin idea, and then I came upon this gem in Comptche. Although the title of the rental suggested it would be ideal for a couple, Starry and I are no strangers to sharing close quarters and we’re both big fans of nature. Plus – it was a mere 30 minute drive to the wineries, AND only $75 per night!

private romantic cabin in the woods

Our kitchen was minimal, but included a couple hot plates, a toaster oven, and some basic cooking essentials. We figured pasta would be easy enough, so I brought some homemade pesto, Pecorino, and a box of Baia “Mohawk” pasta that was gifted to me by GGD. On the way into Anderson Valley, we stopped at a market and deli in Boonville and picked up some local pesto chicken sausage, broccoli and Pennyroyal Farms cheese. When we got to the cabin, Starry started a fire and I opened up a special bottle of wine: Paloma 2007 Merlot from Napa Valley. This is one of my favorite bottles, and it did not disappoint! Starry loved it, and it paired perfectly with the Pennyroyal Farmstead Boont Corners cheese that we devoured.

Paloma and Pennyroyal

After a rousing game of Scrabble (which I promptly ruined when I stepped on the board), I got started on dinner while Starry tended to our fire. The hot plates took a LONG time to heat up, but in the end the meal came together perfectly and we were very pleased with the quality of all the ingredients.pesto

Almond Pesto (makes 1 cup)

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • small handful of raw almonds
  • 4 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan

For pesto, chop garlic and almonds in a large food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add basil and continue to process, then add oil in a slow, steady stream while the motor is running. Add salt and cheese and pulse to combine. Using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small tupperware container. Use within a few days, or freeze.Baia pasta

Pesto Chicken Pasta with Broccoli (serves 2)

  • 1 head broccoli, florets only
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 cups noodle-shaped pasta (I recommend Baia “Mohawk” Pasta)
  • 1 pesto chicken sausage, casing removed
  • 1/2 cup homemade almond pesto
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Set oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees. In a small pyrex dish combine broccoli florets, olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.


Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water for the pasta and set another large pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, add sausage and cook until browned, using the back of a wooden spoon to break up the sausage. Once browned, add broccoli and lower heat.

photo 4

Cook pasta for 10-12 minutes, or until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining. In the empty pot, combine pesto and half of pasta water, stirring to combine. Add more water until you reach desired consistency. Then add sausage and broccoli to pot, stirring to combine into a sauce. Transfer pasta back to the pot and toss to coat in the pesto sauce.


Serve in bowls and top with grated Pecorino. Starry and I enjoyed a 2007 Joseph Swan Zinfandel with this pasta. One would think it would be an odd pairing, but the fruity Zinfandel was able to stand up to the heat in the pasta (from the raw garlic in the pesto), thus bringing out the spice in the wine. It’s also an incredibly tasty wine, and the perfect bottle to finish off an evening in front of the fire.


Admittedly, it really was quite a romantic evening… in a best girlfriends weekend getaway kind of way. More to come on all the great wineries we visited in Anderson Valley!

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