Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Asparagus for all of us



JiT and I spent the better part of Memorial Day weekend visiting friends who own a small cottage in New Buffalo, MI. Less than 2 hours from Chicago, New Buffalo feels like a different planet...it was so relaxing to replace the sirens, car horns and other city noises with....crickets. Our plans involved little more than wandering around the downtown area, walking along the beach and eating (lots of eating!), but I was delighted when our hostess mentioned the Sunday Farmers Market that takes place just a few blocks from their cottage. While the season is still early, and the market was small, I'm so glad that we went. Most of the markets in Chicago haven't started their season yet and I've been dying for fresh, local produce.

You can imagine how excited I was to come across tender, fresh-picked organic asparagus....$2 for a pound!!!! I also scored 8 gorgeous spring green onions for $1 and a potted basil plant for $4. Far fresher and tastier than supermarket produce, that night, we sat on our friends' deck, drinking wine and munching on tender, delicous asparagus slathered in veggie dip, along with flatbread, cured meats and cheeses made at local shops. Everything tasted like summer and I'm still amazed at the great prices we got for these amazing treats!

If you've not yet investigated farmers markets in your area, I recommend that you do so. Its an excellent way to find amazingly fresh, tasty produce and other local goods for incredible bargain prices....plus you're supporting local farmers. If you've already found your market (and maybe even have some asparagus sitting in your fridge right now) the asparagus and spinach pesto we had for dinner tonight is a unique and delicious meal idea you may want to try.

The recipe is from a recent post on the Simply Recipes blog (a fabulous site I suggest you visit for the original recipe). I made a few modifications to the one listed, reducing the amount of pine nuts and cheese...JiT and I are trying to watch our calories. Plus I wanted to be sure the asparagus flavor really came through in the dish....it did!

Asparagus and Spinach Pesto
Serves 3-4

1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 small spring onions, white and light green parts finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
1 box of angel hair pasta, cooked to al dente (we used whole grain)

Boil salted water in a large, shallow pan and add aparagus, cooking for only 2-3 minutes, until aparagus are bright green and just barely tender. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water, then drain the asparagus and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. When asparagus is cooled, slice off the tips and set aside.

Shove the remaining asparagus into a blender (or food processor if you have one) with the cloves of garlic, the 1/4 cup toasted pine nust, and the baby spinach (I also added a handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves, since I had that on hand, but its not necessary). Also add in the 1/4 cup of reserved cooking water and fire up the blender.

Through the hole in the top, slowly pour in the olive oil and stop the blender occassionally to redisitribute the mixture. After a few minutes, the sauce will be blended fine and full of amazing flavor. Add sald and pepper to taste. The pesto can be refridgerated for later use (within a day or two at most I'd say).

To serve, toss the pesto with cooked pasta, pine nuts, cheese, lemon juice and additional olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips and chopped green onions.

We ate ours with sliced chicken and white wine for a fulfilling end to a relaxing holiday weekend.

Stay tuned...tomorrow I'll tell you about the Basil Peach Sorbet we had for dessert!

2 comments:

  1. we were in MI this weekend too, how funny! anyway, do you ever go to Stanley's? it's on North just east of the interstate and they have the best veggies and fruit anywhere. it's like a farmer's market that's open all the time. and soooo cheap! I highly recommend it if you haven't.

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  2. Isn't Stanley's fabulous? I get into trouble there because I always want to buy so much since its so cheap. One difference between them and the farmers market -- they get alot of their produce shipped to them from around the country, so even though its cheap, its not necessarily any fresher. The farmers markets you can generally be assured that what you're buying was pulled from the ground in the last couple of hours or days. But Stanleys is stll FABULOUS (especially in the middle of winter!)

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