Putting My Spin On Things

Like dips, pasta salads aren’t something I make very often. Since only 50% of our household enjoys it, I usually opt for other pasta dishes. I don’t even make it for potlucks because, “what if EVERYONE makes pasta salad and that’s the ONLY thing at the party?!” (In Andy’s defense, this did happen once… seven years ago. He still hasn’t let me forget it.)

But when I started looking for a different way to prepare asparagus (because variety is the spice of my life), I stumbled on the idea of an asparagus salad. And then I realized that if I bulked it up with some pasta, I could get away with only making one dish for dinner. Plus, if I served it warm and called it “pasta with asparagus and feta,” Andy probably wouldn’t associate it with the chilled, mayo-slicked salads that give him flashbacks to that fateful day in 2008. It’s all in how you spin things. 😉

I made a couple changes to the original recipe. I added pasta (obviously). I roasted the asparagus since our grill is on the fritz, and I upped the lemon, adding the zest and juice from an entire lemon. I used my “good” Italian olive oil from my brother-in-law to finish off the dish, since its flavor would come through. We enjoyed it warm the first night, and I liked the leftovers at room temperature as well.

LemonAsparagusFetaPasta

 

Lemon Asparagus Pasta Salad with Feta 

1 lb. of asparagus spears
8 ounces uncooked short pasta
zest and juice of one lemon
olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup feta cheese
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil. Wash the asparagus and trim off the tough, woody ends. Cut the asparagus spears into 3″ long pieces. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl and drizzle them with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the minced garlic in the bowl and toss to combine.

Spread the asparagus in an even layer on the baking sheet and roast until golden brown in spots, about 12 minutes. Hang on to the bowl – you’ll use it to mix everything together at the end.

While the asparagus is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and place it in the bowl you tossed the asparagus in earlier. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice over the cooked pasta. When the asparagus is done, remove it from the oven and add the asparagus to the pasta. Scrape any garlicky oil from the pan into the bowl with the pasta.

Mix the feta cheese in with the pasta. If the mixture seems too dry, add another tablespoon or so of olive oil to the  bowl. Toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Click here for a printable version.

Weekend Food

Let’s face it. There are some dishes that I will never make during the week (at least, not as long as I’m gainfully employed full time). Roasts (unless they’re hanging out in the crockpot). Yeast bread. Short ribs. Let’s add risotto to that list.

It’s not like any of these foods are particularly hard to make; they’re just time consuming. And since we’d rather not sit down to dinner at 8 p.m., I’ve just accepted the fact that some things are better saved for the weekend, when I can take my time and make a complete mess in my kitchen. In fact, that’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially if the weather isn’t the greatest.

I’d had my eye on this recipe ever since Annie posted it, oh, FOUR years ago. I kept waiting for that magical moment when asparagus, leeks AND peas would all show up in my CSA delivery at the same time. No such luck. I finally decided that I’d just suck it up and buy the veggies I needed. Except that I refuse to pay almost three dollars for a tiny clamshell of chives, so I decided to use green onions instead. Which I forgot to add when I finished the risotto. Oh well. Such is life.

Whenever I make risotto, I do my best to have things chopped and prepped before I get going, which makes it easier to focus on stirring the pot. I rinsed the leeks, blanched the asparagus, shredded the cheese and measured out the frozen peas first. That way, I can give the risotto the attention that it deserves. (It’s such a needy dish… “Stir! Constantly!” Ha.) 

I was a little short on the amount of asparagus (because we had been roasting it for dinner), which worked out okay, since Andy didn’t love the texture of the asparagus in the risotto. I did add extra lemon juice to cut the richness of the cream cheese. Next time, I think I’ll omit the cream cheese altogether – we thought that it was rich and creamy enough with just the Parmesan cheese. All in all though, it was an afternoon well spent.

Asparagus Risotto

Spring Green Risotto

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used a combination.) 
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, minced
3 cups chopped leeks, rinsed and spun dry
1 1/2 cups medium-grain rice
2/3 cup dry white wine (I used my favorite wine, mostly because it’s what I have on hand most often.) 
1 lb. asparagus spears, woody ends removed
10 ounces frozen peas
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish if desired (We forgot about that…oops.) 
1/3 cup cream cheese, optional (I’ll leave this out next time, but that’s just me.) 
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and keep the stock warm.

Chop the asparagus into inch-long pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus until it’s crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Immediately drain the asparagus and place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once the asparagus has cooled, drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil together in a large pan (I use my stainless steel Dutch oven because I don’t have a saute pan that I love). Saute the shallots and leeks until they are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the rice to the leek/shallot mixture and cook for about a minute, stirring to coat the rice with the butter and olive oil. Add the wine to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is almost all absorbed.

Ladle two scoops of stock from the saucepan into the pan with the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice. Continue adding the broth, two scoops at a time, cooking and stirring until the liquid is almost absorbed before adding more stock. When the rice has been cooking for about 15 minutes, add the cooked asparagus to the rice. Stir in the lemon zest and the frozen peas. Continue to add stock and cook the rice until it is creamy and tender but still slightly firm.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and cream cheese (if using). Stir until the cheese melts and the risotto is creamy. Taste the risotto and then season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serve warm, garnished with Parmesan if desired.

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Click here for a printable version.

Pizza Win!

I’ll admit, I’ve been slacking off the last few weeks. First Andy was out of town, and then we had out-of-town guests, then we took a mini-vacation, and then things got busy for me at work. All of that translates to almost no time to blog (although, thankfully, there has still been time to make dinner).

In the middle of that whirlwind, I was able to finally take a road trip with some girlfriends to the nearest Trader Joe’s. I figured it was time to see what all of the fuss was about. (It’s about a two-hour drive to get there from my house, and I know people who make the pilgrimage trek trip regularly. I needed to know why.) I have to say, I wasn’t blown away. I did pick up some orecchiette (since I have a hard time finding it for a reasonable price at my standard grocery store) and a couple other items (dried apricots and roasted red peppers), but overall, I was underwhelmed.

The real “win” of the Trader Joe’s trip (aside from the quality time with some of my all-time favorite people) was the asparagus. It was decently priced, and since I am SO ready for spring, I bought a bunch. And thanks to a fantastic pizza that we had in Bayfield (Brie, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers and chicken, anyone?), I couldn’t stop thinking about a pizza with caramelized onions. How about a shaved asparagus pizza with caramelized onions? With bacon too, because, well, it’s bacon. Who’s with me? 🙂

I’d made an asparagus pizza once before, with my usual hand-tossed style crust, and I felt like it was too much crust. So, this time around, I decided to try a thinner crust, and while I’m typically a more-bread-is-better girl, I felt like the thin crust was just what this pizza needed. (Does this mean there’s room in my life for more than one kind of pizza crust? What’s next? More than one chocolate chip cookie?)

I don’t know if it was the onions, the crust, the bacon or some magical quality in the Trader Joe’s asparagus, but the pizza was an all-out success. As in, the best thing we ate all week. Maybe I need another road trip. 😉

asparagus pizza

Shaved Asparagus Pizza with Bacon and Caramelized Onions

For the crust: 
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil for the bowl and pizza pan
cornmeal for the pizza pan

For the toppings:
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus spears
4 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
4 ounces of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 ounce shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 200 degrees, and then turn the oven off, keeping the door closed to retain the oven temperature.

Pour the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Let the mixture stand until the yeast is dissolved and foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and the salt to the bowl and attach the bowl to the mixer. Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed until it comes together in a large mass. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and wipe out the mixing bowl. Brush some olive oil in the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven. Allow dough to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

While the crust is rising, prepare the toppings. Melt the butter and one teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onion slices, salt and sugar.  Cook the onions over medium low until the onions are soft, golden brown and caramelized, only stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, “shave” the asparagus. Hold the large end of the asparagus and run a vegetable peeler down the length of the stalk, creating thin ribbons. (Some of mine were thinner than others, and it all worked out OK.) Discard the tough, woody ends of the asparagus stalk.

When the dough has risen, remove it from the oven and preheat the oven to 425. Lightly oil a pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Stretch the dough out into a 12″ round and brush the crust with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the caramelized onions all over the crust. Pile the asparagus ribbons on top of the onions. Sprinkle with the crumbled bacon, and then cover the pizza with the mozzarella cheese. Top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until crust is golden and cheese is melted, bubbly and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Crust from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, toppings inspired by the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Maggie’s in Bayfield, Wis.

Click here for a printable version.