Perfect for the Season: Asparagus and Spring Greens Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette

My Peter Rabbit is waiting to go back in the green garden!

Peter Rabbit is waiting for spring so he can go back in the green garden!

Rabbit Rabbit everyone! We’re finally in APRIL! Last week I said a big goodbye to winter; this week I’m saying hello to spring! And what better way to do that than with asparagus?

I buy asparagus by the pound this time of year. Last year I believe I actually got the question before dinner, “Asparagus? Again?” I love just roasting it (check out my recipes from last April!), but this recipe just calls for blanching and adding to a salad. A new way to use it!

What’s not to like with this salad? I never use lemon zest in anything, but I just might start. The addition of that brought a certain brightness to the dressing that just said spring. And gorgonzola cheese is one of my favorite cheeses; my favorite salad is romaine salad, olive oil, gorgonzola cheese and salt and pepper. So easy but SO good!

This recipe serves eight, so it would be a perfect side dish for your Passover or Easter dinner if you’re cooking for a crowd, or you can make it as a side salad for a weeknight supper. I just placed everything in individual bowls and topped with the salad dressing. And had some dressing left over for lunch the next day!

spring salad

I don’t usually see white asparagus in the produce section, so I used all green. Just as tasty!

Asparagus and Spring Greens Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette

This recipe first appeared in the March 2010 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

1 pound green and white asparagus, trimmed and cut into (2-inch) pieces
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons minced shallots
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, divided
1 (5-ounce) package mixed salad greens

1. Cook asparagus and 2 teaspoons salt in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse asparagus under cold water; drain.

2. Combine remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, shallots, and next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese.

3. Combine asparagus and greens in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

easterMVK’s Endorsement of the Week: Suggestions for Easter and Passover Dinner

It’s Wednesday, and if you’re like me and you still don’t know what you’re going to make for your Friday or Sunday dinner, here are some suggestions! These publications have lots of delicious recipes for your Easter and Passover dinners!

Cooking Light

New York Times Easter

New York Times Passover

Food Network

Martha Stewart

Rachael Ray

Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, and Asparagus

Photo8J4Z47TN
When cell phones came out, I was the last one on the block to finally get one. And 11 years later, I finally got my own smart phone–the last one on the block again. Since March, I’ve been checking out these sites I’ve only heard about, Instagram being one of them. With Instagram, I can follow friends and celebrities by the photos of their lives. One of the people I follow is Amanda Hesser, former New York Times food writer who, with Merrill Stubbs, is the cofounder and CEO of Food52. A few weeks ago, she posted a photo of her first al fresco dinner, pasta with shrimp, lemon, garlic, and asparagus, with rose wine on ice. I had to make this! It looked delicious and what better way to welcome the warmer weather!

This recipe can almost fit into my Week Night Dinner Series and in fact, I did make it on a weeknight! Fresh shrimp sautéed with garlic and lemon, crunchy asparagus, a topping of freshly grated cheese, it was heaven in a bowl, and I had to resist taking a second helping. (The Eater of the House, on the other hand, obviously loved it. He finished it off—no leftovers for lunch!)

A delicious dinner was had that evening, alas indoors. This time of year, pop up rain showers and storms come along and can cancel all outdoor plans you may have for the evening. But no matter, it was still delicious and that’s what really counts. There is nary a raindrop on the forecast for tonight, so maybe I’ll make it again!

pasta pic
Pasta with Shrimp, Garlic, and Asparagus

For those gluten-intolerant, substitute white beans for the pasta. For those with shellfish allergies or vegetarians who don’t eat seafood, substitute white beans for the shrimp!

A couple teaspoons of olive oil and butter
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 shallot, chopped
¾ pound shrimp, fresh or frozen fresh (I used jumbo)
A couple splashes of dry white wine or vermouth (optional)
Crushed red pepper for heat (if desired)
3+ cups asparagus, chopped into about 2 inch pieces
½ pound (half a box) gemelli or penne pasta (you can really use whatever type of pasta you like)
The juice of one-half lemon
Slivered fresh basil
Grated cheese

1. In a medium-sized skillet, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil and butter and melt gently. Add the garlic and shallot and cook just a minute or two, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook until just pink. Add a little bit of wine and crushed red pepper, if using.

2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Set the timer and cook for about eight minutes. When there are two minutes left, add the asparagus and cook for the remaining two minutes. Drain well.

3. Add the pasta and asparagus to a serving dish, add the shrimp and toss gently. Add the juice of a half lemon and top with freshly grated cheese.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week

provenceProvence 1970 by Luke Barr
Ah, to spend just a few hours in the company of M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Richard Olney in Provence, cooking and talking about food. And Luke Barr takes us there.

It’s not all bread and roses for these four stalwarts of the cooking world, as each were at their own personal turning point in their lives. Child and Beck are at odds, coming to a point in their professional relationship that they must sever the ties, while neither one wants to make the first move. Beard is nearby at a health spa, trying desperately to lose the weight that is impeding his health. And M.F.K. Fisher is at crossroads in her life; live in France or return to her beloved California.

It took me a while to get into this. I found in the beginning Barr’s voice was too loud, a somewhat pretentious writer (this probably has everything to do with the fact I listened to an interview with him a while back). But soon, I got lost in the story of these writers and cooks and enjoyed being at the dinner table, as well as enjoying the occasional visits from Judith Jones and Elizabeth David: Beard and Child’s renowned cookbook editor and the grande dame of English cooking. When the dining editor of the New York Times left, it was interesting to see all the speculation of who would take over the position. Talk about a who’s who of gossip!

To read books like this, with a deep look at the past with a nod to the future, always fascinates me. Child was just beginning her cooking show, and was at the start of her immense popularity. Beard, while ill for many years due to his health, lived for at least 15 more, continued to write cookbooks, many of them quite famous. Fisher continued to write and publish memoirs and cookbooks, as did Olney. But looking back on December, 1970, in Provence, the world was still open and free, with endless possibilities.

Roasted Asparagus: Two Ways

easterEaster always signifies to me the end of winter and the first real springtime meal of the year. With Easter so late this year, I’m already in full swing with the spring vegetables and recipes: radishes, baby beets, and asparagus. When I see California asparagus in March, I know spring has arrived. (To get local asparagus, I’ll have to wait until at least May!) With the traditional Easter dinner always a bit on the heavy side: ham, potato salad and/or sweet potatoes, I like to counter it with some roasted asparagus to signify the new season and to lighten up the meal!

These are two ways I roast asparagus that are easy and delicious. Hardly any fat and calories and true confession, I’ve been known to make a sheet of this for a solo dinner. Balsamic vinegar is always a wonderful addition to any dish, since a little goes a long way.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and the Easter Bunny is good to you! I am taking a week or two off to celebrate my birthday as well as take part in an exciting event (check out this week’s endorsement following the recipes)!

asparagus2

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic-Shallot Butter
This recipe originally appeared in the November 2002 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Make the butter ahead of time, if you like. Roast the asparagus and toss it with the butter just before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 pounds asparagus spears
Cooking spray

Combine shallots, butter, vinegar, thyme, salt, and rind, stirring well with a whisk.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Snap off tough ends of asparagus. Arrange asparagus in a single layer on a jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil; bake at 450° for 5 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender. Pour butter mixture over asparagus, toss gently to coat. Serve immediately.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter
This recipe originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Toss roasted asparagus in browned butter, seasoned with soy sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar, for a super easy side dish that’s big on flavor.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 5 spears)
Hands-on: 7 Minutes
Total: 25 Minutes

40 thick asparagus spears, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
Cooking spray
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Arrange asparagus in a single layer on baking sheet; coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes or until tender.

3. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat; cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in soy sauce and vinegar. Drizzle over asparagus, tossing well to coat. Serve immediately.

Note: Finish the asparagus just before serving dinner. Cooking the butter until it browns slightly gives the dish a nutty flavor; watch carefully, though, since it can burn easily.

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
three squaresThis week, I am endorsing myself! I have the wonderful opportunity to moderate a food discussion with author and food historian, Abigail Carroll, at this year’s Newburyport (MA) Literary Festival on April 26. The session is titled “The Invention of the American Meal” and we will discuss Abigail’s book, Three Squares, and the history of our American eating habits. I found her book a fascinating glance at history regarding the three square meals we eat every day.

Here is a link to the festival’s website, http://www.newburyportliteraryfestival.org. If you are in the area, I’d love to meet you in person! Hopefully I will return with a recap of the event, if all goes well!

Springtime Pasta

Look what's up in the garden! Now it's time to weed!

The happiest of the springtime flowers! Now it’s time to weed!

So I know I said I was going to take a break some time soon, but I couldn’t resist giving you this recipe I made that is picture-perfect for this time of year!

I was driving home from work one late Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and of course, the question of what’s for dinner came to my mind. At the end of the week, a martini and some cheese and crackers is a sufficient dinner for me, but of course, nutritionally it should be a bit more substantial. One game I like to play with myself is to figure out what I can create for dinner with what I have on hand before I get to the grocery store in case I need to stop. I knew I had some asparagus in the fridge and some pasta in the cupboard. A stop at the grocery store for a shallot,  some frozen peas, and goat cheese and I knew what dinner was going to be, Springtime Pasta!

I always wonder when I see cooking magazines and their “seasons.” Yes, peas are a spring vegetable, but in Vermont, that’s June not April. But frozen peas are great, they are always fresh and you don’t have to shell them! Shallots sautéed in a little bit of butter and olive oil lend just the right amount of flavor, and you can always substitute red onion. Of course, with most of my pasta dishes a little bit of white wine or vermouth is a tasty addition, but you can leave it out if you want. I had pappardelle in the cupboard, but I would recommend perhaps linguine instead; pappardelle is long, very thick egg noodles. A little too long for me, you can’t wind the pasta on your fork. The topping of goat cheese added just a little bit of creaminess to the warm noodles, but you can use whatever you prefer, or leave it out. And per usual, measurements here always are a guideline; you can use more asparagus, peas, leave one out, or use less pasta!

I eat asparagus on a daily basis this time of year, with my eggs in the morning, on my salad for lunch, roasted or in pasta for dinner. It just tastes like spring!

DSCN0190

Springtime Pasta

1 small shallot, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
Butter and extra virgin olive oil for sauteing
3 cups chopped asparagus
½ cup of peas (fresh or frozen)
¾ cup chicken broth
Splash of white wine or vermouth (optional)
About 8 ounces dried pasta
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheese for topping, if desired

  1. Fill a Dutch oven with water and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil for about three minutes or until tender. With a slotted spoon, take the asparagus out of the water and set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt some butter and olive oil together. Add the shallot and garlic and cook at a medium heat until soft. Add the chicken broth and wine, if using, and bring to a boil. When it is reduced a little, add the cooked asparagus and peas. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions (or 7-8 minutes for al dente). Drain, and add the pasta to the sauce. Toss gentle, add a squirt of lemon juice, and serve. Top with cheese if using.

Cream of Fiddlehead and Asparagus Soup

I mentioned last week that springtime to me means rhubarb. But there is something else that also means springtime, fiddlehead ferns! These little curly ques of green have a certain flavor I find similar to asparagus. The season is quite short, so I try to take advantage of them as soon as I see them.

Now, there are some fiddleheads that are OK to eat, others are poisonous, so I never take chances foraging in the back field or in the hills and just buy them at the coop. Since I had both fiddleheads and asparagus in the vegetable bin, I thought the flavors would meld well together and decided to make a combo soup one night for dinner.

I first minced a small shallot with a couple cloves of garlic and put it in a Dutch oven with a couple teaspoons of warmed olive oil. I was too busy prepping the vegetables to notice it burned a little, leading me to remember two tips I’ll pass on to you. First off, try to have most things prepped before you start cooking, but if you don’t and you’re sauteing garlic and/or onions and not ready for that next step, add a little bit of water to the pot to slow down the cooking process. You’re not hindering anything aside from allowing the alliums to cook slower.

I added the fiddleheads and asparagus, tossed them with the shallots and garlic, and added some leftover chicken broth and water. A splash or two of white wine and I set it on its way to boil. I simmered the soup for about 15 minutes until the veggies were really soft.

I find both asparagus and fiddleheads quite “woody,” and despite several pulses in the blender, it never became completely smooth. Adding a bit more liquid would help this, but then, I like soup with a little bit of oomph and not completely pureed. Also, on some evenings, I’m impatient. Back to the pot went the soup. I had some half and half that was nearing its expiration date, so I added that, about a quarter cup. I live with someone whose least favorite herb is dill, and it’s one of my favorites, but tasting this it was just crying out for some dill and lemon. I added a half-teaspoon of dill weed, but if I were to cook this for myself, I’d add a full teaspoon. A few squirts of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper and it was ready to eat!

This recipe is fairly simple and easy variations can make it palatable to lactose and vegetarians. For dairy-free, leave out the cream; for vegetarians, vegetable broth or water can be substituted. If you don’t cook with alcohol, you can always leave out the wine, too.


Cream of Fiddlehead and Asparagus Soup
Makes 4 servings, for a light lunch or dinner

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced (or about 2-3 Tablespoons minced red onion)
1 ¼ cups fiddleheads, ends trimmed
2 cups asparagus, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 1/2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
A couple splashes of white wine (optional)
1/4 cup cream or milk (optional)
½-1 teaspoon dried dill weed
A couple squirts of fresh lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, add the garlic and shallots to olive oil warmed over medium heat. Saute for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the fiddleheads and asparagus and stir, combining all the ingredients. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the vegetable simmer until very soft. When the vegetables are soft, in batches, puree the vegetables together in a blender or food processor. (*Have patience, it takes a while for these vegetables to be completely pureed.) When the soup is smooth, add back to the pot and add the cream, if using, dill weed, lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Happy Spring!

Crocuses? In Vermont? In the middle of March?!

Please forgive the almost non-existent recipe this week. March has been an incredibly busy month for me traveling and I was going to beg off this week (I’ll do that next month for my birthday!), then decided to give you the ultimate springtime recipe: roasted asparagus. I could have sworn I gave this to you last spring, but I went through every single post and didn’t find it. So forgive me if I missed it and this is a repeat.

And speaking of springtime, it really has come in like a lion! The middle week of March and my daffodils and tulips are sprouting and the buds are on the lilac bushes? Unreal! This has been an incredibly warm winter, hence the no snow on the Hogback Mountain range you see here. My winter boots are sitting by the door and I wonder when I should put those away. The birds are back in full force, the woodcock has been chirping every morning looking for his mate for a couple of weeks, and ticks and mosquitos have been spotted! I even slept with the window propped open a little bit last night! Everything is a full month to six weeks early. The peepers are even starting to wake up! All this early spring has made me wonder about the farm crops this year. And fingers crossed the lack of precipitation won’t lead to a wetter than normal summer.

But so, when the calendar turns to March, regardless of the temperature, it means asparagus for me. Every time I’m at the supermarket, I’ll pick up a bunch, so this sometimes means more than once a week! I add it to soups, salads, pasta, and eggs. The easiest way, though, is roasted, where it requires just a pan and spatula!

After washing the stems, take them by the end and bend, the tips will automatically break. Of course, you can also just chop the ends off with a knife. Place them on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and toss with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in a heated oven, 375-400 degrees. Cook for about 20 minutes or so, tossing once during that time. When they become dark, they are done. My favorite way is adding a little balsamic vinegar. If I’m not feeling lazy, I will take a few tablespoons of the vinegar in a saucepan and boil it until it is thick. Adding toasted pine nuts is also tasty as is a few squirts of lemon. Or forget everything else and just eat it out of the pan, sans sauce. I’ve done that too!

Spring Cleaning 1: Asparagus Barley Risotto

Don't forget the freshly ground pepper and shaved cheese!

Not sure why, but I have a bee in my bonnet these days. Perhaps it’s the interminably long winter we’ve had here, but I want to clean. Not just clean the house, open the windows, and let the fresh air in, but really hoe things out, including the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. So, in this quest to start anew, I’ve started to look in the larder and create recipes from the grains I have waiting to be used. Staring at me in their glass jars are wheat berries, quinoa, barley, black beans, lentils, and whole wheat couscous.  What to do, what to do?

Last Sunday, I had a craving for a risotto I make each spring when I see the first young asparagus in the store, but is made with the usual Italian short grain rice. Instead of rice, I substituted barley. It was delicious and heated up well for lunches during the week. With this recipe, I was able to use some barley and a jar of homemade chicken broth I defrosted from the freezer. This takes some kitchen time, you have to constantly stir the barley, or if you’re like me, try to constantly stir the barley, sometimes my attention wanders elsewhere! There’s still one more cup of barley left for tomorrow night’s dinner, but I’m making headway. Stay tuned, recipes will be coming!

Asparagus Barley Risotto

1 cup pearled barley
1 cup finely diced onion
3 cups-plus chicken broth
Young asparagus
A couple of dashes of white wine or dry vermouth
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

1. In a sauce pan, heat the chicken broth and add some chopped asparagus (a cup or more, depending on how much you’d like). Once heated through, turn to low and keep it warm. (Note: I didn’t cook the asparagus before putting it in the stock, it cooked while in the broth. If you find they aren’t soft, you might have to bring the broth to a short boil, then turn down to low.)

2. In a stock pot, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil. Add onion and cook until translucent. With a large ladle, add some of the stock. Stir the barley until the liquid is almost gone, and continue, one ladle at a time adding stock until the barley is cooked. During this time, add a couple dashes of white wine, continuing to stir. Make sure you leave just a touch of moisture in the dish, you don’t want the barley to be completely dry.

3. When ready to serve, top with freshly ground black pepper and a few grates of Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve warm.