Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Asparagus Risotto

Last night, as I was contemplating what to do with some leftover asparagus pesto, I was hit with a flash of inspiration. Why not use it as a base for a lovely risotto? Turns out this is a really fantastic way to use up the leftovers.

We love substituting barley for arborio rice in our risotto recipes. It's healthy. And chewy. And substantial. I also really like the earthy flavor, which is really fantastic with mushrooms. So, here we use a mushroom broth -- though you could substitute any sort of broth (or even cooking water from the asparagus). Shiitakes are a natural pairing with asparagus, so we enjoy them together when we can.

Asparagus & Shiitake Risotto

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Asparagus Pesto with Pasta

With all my raving over the Super Natural Cooking cookbook, I was really glad when this recipe turned out to be a winner.

It's brilliant green color, doppled with pinenuts, makes it a perfect choice for a spring meal. Even when the weather isn't QUITE cooperating. We'll definitely be repeating this one at home. I'm also thinking that the asparagus "pesto" would be good for more varied purposes. Heidi Swanson suggests putting it on a sandwich, or swirling it into a soup. I can also see it being great on pizza or as a spread for bruschetta.

Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, with Spring Asparagus Purée
adapted from Super Natural Cooking (Swanson)

1 bunch asparagus spears (about 1 lb), trimmed of tough ends and halved crosswise
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
8 ounces of dried pasta

Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large for the pasta and one medium sized for the asparagus.

While the water is heating, put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large skillet. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside. You will use 3/4 cup of the pine nuts for the pesto paste and 1/4 cup to mix in whole.

Salt the asparagus water and drop the spears into the pan. Cook for only 2 or 3 minutes, until the spears are bright green and barely tender. Drain under cool water to stop the cooking. Cut the tips off, and set aside, several of the asparagus (diagonal cut about an inch from the end) to use for garnish.

Add the asparagus, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to a food processor. Purée and, with the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms. If too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, taste and adjust seasoning.

Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender. Check the directions on the pasta package. You'll need more time for dried pasta and less for fresh. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus pesto.

Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a light drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 to 6.