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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.

Kale & White Bean Stew

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In keeping with my attempt to stay healthy (and warm!) in January, I decided to whip up some soup last night. I have seen versions of kale and white bean soup on various blogs and cookbooks, and I found a particular recipe from Bon Appetite that looked promising. With some slight variations, it turned out to be a delicious and hearty stew – and even better as lunch the next day!

Kale & White Bean Stew (serves 4)

  • 2 TB olive oilphoto 1
  • two carrots, shredded
  • three shallots, diced
  • 3 large celery sticks, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 slices of Italian prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth (or more)photo 2
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 TB dry Sherry
  • 4 cups of kale, coarsely chopped (I usedtwo different kinds: Tuscan and Premier)
  • 1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Herbes de Provence
  • salt and pepper to taste
photo 5

Tuscan (Dinosaur) kale on the left and Premier kale on the right

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the carrots, celery, shallots and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the prosciutto and continue to sauté for another 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

photo 3

Add the white wine to the pot and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the white beans, 4 cups of chicken broth, bay leaf and thyme sprigs and raise heat to bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook for 20 minutes.

photo 1

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs from the pot. Stir in the Sherry, kale, chives, parsley and Herbes de Provence and continue to cook for five minutes over medium heat. Add more broth by the half-cup-fulls if you would like a more soupy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, but the soup will already be somewhat salty because of the prosciutto so be careful!

To make a vegetarian version, omit the prosciutto and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. You may also used other herbs in addition to the chives and parsley, such as tarragon or rosemary – but with the Herbes de Provence, those flavors are covered. If you do not have Herbes de Provence, use dried savory herbs such as thyme, rosemary, basil, etc.

photo 3

Not only did this soup turn out to be delicious, but it was very filling and full of vegetables and protein in every bite. After having two small bowls of soup, there was not a lot of liquid left. So I decided to add a little vegetable broth and heat for a few minutes before transferring to tupperware for lunch the next day. The flavors melded together overnight and the stew tasted even better the next day! I loved the addition of the prosciutto because it added salt and texture – and meat! I would also consider adding ground turkey or chicken sausage, but prosciutto is what I had on hand.

I skipped the wine last night (other than the cup I put in the stew), but this would go well with a South African Sauvignon Blanc, such as Simonsig, Mulderbosch, Ken Forrester or Porcupine Ridge. South African Sauvignon Blancs are medium-bodied and have a nice acidity, which pairs well with the savory soup. If you’re looking to pair with a red wine, I would recommend something light and earthy like Chianti.

 

***NOTES***

I have since made this stew a few times, but have used two Italian chicken sausage, one mild and one hot (casings removed). I prefer this to the prosciutto, and it’s also healthier. You can cook the sausage at the same time that you would cook the prosciutto. 

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.

My Night Job

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“Marketing Manager” is sort of a blanket term for my role at JAQK Cellars. From processing direct orders and communicating with distributors, to managing social media and off-site events, to overseeing the wine club and our tasting room, you might say I wear a lot of hats. But that’s what comes with working for a small winery.

One of my favorite responsibilities is managing our tasting room at the office in Jackson Square. We hold private seated tastings for groups of 6-12, or “semi-private” tastings for groups of 2-4 to be seated with other small groups. For the semi-private tastings we serve 5 wines paired with a plate of gourmet cheese, meats, fruit, bread, chocolate and nuts. The private tastings get to try all 8 of our wines, paired with the same foods on two large platters.

Of course, the best thing about planning the tasting events is picking out all the food! Every plate gets a little bit of fruit, blackberries and strawberries. I almost always select imported prosciutto and sopressata, usually from a nice deli or a specialty shop. The cheese sometimes varies depending on the groups allergies and dietary restrictions (we can also leave meat off some plates). For example, if there is a guest that is allergic to cow’s milk – like Lactard – I purchase a selection of goat cheeses. My favorite goat cheeses are from Cypress Groves, a creamery up north in Mendocino. We serve the Purple Haze, a soft goat cheese with lavender and fennel, at every tasting – unless I can’t find any (though, it’s sold at most grocery stores and specialty shops in San Francisco). It goes perfectly with the Soldiers of Fortune Syrah, and it’s just a delicious cheese. My other favorite cheese from Cypress Grove is Midnight Moon. It’s a hard goat gouda with a nutty, smooth carmel flavor – perfect for pairing with wine. Even if there aren’t any lactards in the group, I still tend to serve these cheeses because they are so damn good. Though, it is fun to go to the shop and taste all the different cow’s milk cheeses.

It takes about an hour to set up the tasting, longer if I have to do the individual plating. Once the guests arrive, they take their seats and I tell them a little about the history of the company. Then of course, they have some wine. We start with a white selection, the Her Majesty Chardonnay or the Pearl Handle Chardonnay (we have limited quantities of the Charmed and thus do not sample it at tastings), then move through four of the red wines, ending with the flagship High Roller Cabernet. While telling the guest about the wine, I guide them in which foods to pair with which wines. But I also encourage them to try different pairings on their own to see what goes best. It’s incredible how much a bite of dark chocolate can change the taste of the Bone Dance Merlot, while at the same time making the Syrah taste bitter and over-peppery (warning: do not each chocolate with Syrah).

At the end of the tastings the guests have an opportunity to venture up to our roof deck for a view of the Transamerica building. I take this opportunity to clean up the plates, put out some order sheets, and have a glass of whatever red wine is left in the bottle. Not a bad night job, if you ask me.

 

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