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Posts Tagged ‘asparagus’

Enjoy Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto from the Four Seasons.

 

 

Spring is finally bursting free from the frosty fetters of winter here in Ohio. We welcome it with open arms. I know there will most likely be some cold days ahead. April is the cruelest month, after all. Last year, after 80 degrees the first week of April, we were treated to temperatures in the teens a week later, fatally freezing flower buds from trees and shrubs and making for a relatively drab season.

So far this year, daffodils, tulips, magnolias and rhododendrons have been spectacular and I’m hoping that our crabapples, which went from brown to green last year, skipping the anticipated bright pink flowers of previous years, will give us a beautiful display in the coming weeks.

The greening of the countryside brings us the first fruits of the seasons, or, vegetables, in this case. Fresh asparagus beckons me to the kitchen to come up with new ways to prepare one of my favorite vegetables. So far this year, we have steamed it and roasted it. Today, I will include it in risotto verde. You can call it “green rice” if Italian words scare off your family members from trying this most delicious side dish. Actually, I could make this an entree if I could afford the extra carbs.

Pioneer woman has a great photographically illustrated tutorial on risotto. Her humorous accounts of cooking and her life in general are greatly amusing and informative. Be sure to check out her photography and “lessons in Photoshop for the average person”.

 

What makes my “green rice” green, is the addition of spinach, asparagus, and peas, if all three are on hand. I usually have a few bags of frozen peas, and fresh or frozen spinach, and in the spring, and asparagus every other week or so. Grab some onion, white wine, chicken broth and parmesan cheese, and you’re good to go. This is perfect with any meat entree. With a tossed salad or some fruit, you have a complete meal.

RISOTTO VERDE

Serves 6-8

2 c. onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1 c. Arborio rice (it must be arborio rice or marked for risotto)

1/2 c. white wine

1/2 t. salt

2 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth, simmering, over low heat (homemade broth, if possible)

6 spears asparagus, cut into 1/2″ pieces, or however many you want

1 c. frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry), or 2 c. fresh spinach, chopped*

1 t. dried tarragon

1/2 c. frozen green peas, thawed

1/4-1/2 c. parmesan, grated or shredded (try to get a hunk of parmesan, but go ahead and use the green package if that’s what you have

1-2T. butter, optional

milk or cream, optional

 

1. Heat butter and oil in large heavy saucepan. When hot, saute onion 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent, then add garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more.

2. Add the rice and stir one minute to coat the grains with oil.

3. Add the wine and cook, medium-low heat, stirring, until wine is absorbed.

4. With the risotto pot on a medium-low setting, begin gradually stirring in the hot broth, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, stirring quite often until it is nearly completely absorbed. Then add the next portion of broth, continuing to stir until absorbed.  Keep the pot of risotto simmering, not boiling. There should never be a lot of liquid in the pot which means that you must keep careful watch and stir often to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Don’t worry – it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. You’ll catch onto the idea of gradually softening the rice as you prepare the recipe and you will know when it is done.

5. When adding the last bit of broth, add the asparagus, peas and spinach. Stir to combine. Taste a few grains of rice. If they are still firm, add more broth (or water if you have used up all the broth) and continue the process, tasting every minute or two until the rice is creamy and tender. 

6. Add the tarragon and parmesan. Stir in the last tablespoon of butter, if you want to boost the richness a bit. Let stand off the heat for 5 minutes.

7. Add a little milk or cream if desired if the risotto seems too dry. It should be creamy and moist.

 ************************************************************************************************************ 

The whole process can take as little as 20 minutes or more likely 30. It depends on the rice,  your stove, the temperature of the broth, the pan, and who knows what else. It can rest, covered, off the heat for a few minutes while you get the rest of the meal on the table. The constant stirring really is no big deal. It just means a quick stir every minute or so. Don’t paint your toenails, take an important phone call, or work in the yard while you fix risotto. That way lies perdition. And Minute Rice instead of risotto.

There are ways to partially prepare risotto ahead of time, methods used by restaurants whose patrons don’t usually want to wait a half-hour for their meals. I leave you to find those methods if you desire.

Give risotto a try and discover what Pioneer Woman and I have in common. Yum.

*I used a cup of leftover creamed spinach the last time I made this dish. It worked great!

 

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People must love asparagus, or else they hate it and are desperately trying to find ways to cook asparagus that they will be able to stomach. I don’t know, but there must be some reason that so many people check my previous two posts on asparagus, “A is for Asparagus” and “A is for Asparagus – II”.  (It may be a self-fulfilling prophecy because it appears as the “Top Post” below and people may “click” on it just to see what’s so mahvelous. Anyway,  for asparagus lovers or haters anywhere, I submit this new recipe for those mahvelous green spears that cause so much curiosity.

I found this recipe last week and prepared it a few nights ago. It has a lot going for it – easy, inexpensive, and delicious. Other than the asparagus, the only ingredients that one might not have on hand would be ham, and heavy cream.  Did I say that it was rather high in fat? No? Oh well, you won’t notice a little more than fat and calories than usual, will you? You can omit the cream and use whole or reduced fat milk in its place if you need to. This is another winning recipe from our friends at Epicurious, reporting on a recipe from the January, 2008, issue of Gourmet.

I can’t begin to guess how many delicious dishes I have prepared from Epicurious. It is a treasure for foodies and I hope you all have it bookmarked on your computers. If so, you may have already noticed this recipe. Well, I’m here to tell you to go grocery shopping and pick up whatever you need to fix this recipe soon. There will be a quiz later.

ASPARAGUS WITH CREAM SAUCE

Serves 3 or 4

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 T. unsalted butter, soft

4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices good-quality bread, crusts discarded

1 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. finely chopped cooked sliced Virginia country ham

1/2 t. finely chopped garlic

1. Steam asparagus in a steamer rach over boiling water, covered, until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.

2. Transfer to a plate and keep warm, loosely covered with foil.

3. Put broiler man with unlined rack in broiler and preheat 5 minutes.

4. Generously butter bread slices on 1 side, then halve diagonally.

5. Arrange bread, buttered sides up, on rack of hot broiler pan and broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until golden-brown in some spots and undersides are toasted, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully).

6. Briskly simmer cream, ham, garlic, and 1/8 t. pepper in a 12-inch heavy skillet, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and is reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 3 minutes. (If necessary, keep warm, covered — the sauce, silly, not you. Although, if you’re cold, by all means, keep yourself warm, too.)

7. Arrange asparagus on toast (on plates), stir sauce and spoon over asparagus. —-

All that is simple enough. Here’s how I adapted the recipe. Somehow you knew I would change a little bit here and there to make it “my own”, didn’t you. Well, I knew we would want more meat with the meal, so I used a little more than 1/4 c. ham, probably between 1/3 and 1/2 cup; I didn’t measure it. I used my “No Knead” bread and sprinkled the finished product with a tiny bit of Parmesan. I used regular ol’ ham from the grocery; I didn’t search for Virginia country ham. For all I know, it was Kentucky, Ohio, or Missouri ham. It served us well.  Thank you, piggy, wherever you lived.

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 I know it’s not spring yet. Darn it. I keep telling myself that winter was invented in order for us all to really love spring.

Well, I really love spring. I eagerly anticipate the rebirth of flora, little green nubs pushing up through the still frigid ground, reaching for sunkissed warmth; swollen buds on branches of stark naked trees. The return of the robin, chirping in the early morning darkness, gives me a sleepy smile as I lay abed before arising. The different aroma of the outdoor air, slightly sweet in its earthiness. Ahhh, spring.

images.jpgI was talking with my mother yesterday about the wonderful availability of fruits and vegetables in the groceries of today. We mentioned how much we both like the stronger tasting vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and of course, asparagus.

It’s so wonderful that we can now get fresh asparagus almost any time of the year. Of course it is probably much better to have spears poking up from the ground  in your own garden plot, but those of us with green thumbs for ;egetables have to settle for what we can get at the grocery.

As I mentioned here, I enjoyed a delicious asparagus spring pea soup at Panera a few years ago. It was so good that I was motivated to try to work up a reasonble fascimile. I prepared it within a few days so that I could compare my soup’s taste with my memory of what Panera served before my memory became cold. I was pretty well satisfied with  my rendition of the soup and here is the recipe for those of you who await spring and the greening of the Northern Hemisphere as much as I.

Morgana’s Spring Pea and Asparagus Soup 

1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil

1 small onion, chopped (1/2-3/4 c.)

2 stalks celery, chopped (1/2 c.)

1 leek, split lengthwise, washed well and sliced (light green and white part only)

Mixed fresh herbs (I used thyme parsley, mint, and basil, about 1 T. of each chopped)

1 quart chicken broth (low sodium, preferred)

2 c. water

2 c. green shelled, English peas (fresh or frozen)

1 potato, peeled and cubed

1 bunch asparagus, ends discarded, and stalks sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash of Tabasco or other hot sauce, optional 

1 c. whole milk, half and half, heavy cream, or evaporated milk 

 1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add oil and heat to medium high.

2. Saute onion, celery, and leek until tender, about 10 minutes. Don’t let them brown.

3. Add broth, water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add potato. Cook until potato is nearly tender. Add peas and asparagus and cook for 5-10 minutes until asparagus stalks are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco.

4.  Puree in batches in a blender or use a stick blender to puree in the cooking pot. Add milk, or cream and heat just until warm. Be careful not to boil.    This is great with some cheese and a big slice of good bread.

UPDATE:

For those of you who might have been bewildered by my earlier ingredient “2 d. peas”, I obviously had a typo pass by my normally eagle-eyed editor. It was supposed to read “2 c. peas”. These are your garden variety English green peas, not sugar snap, not split peas, not snow peas.

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