Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Asparagus, Peas & Penne

Springtime! Asparagus season! The conclusion of Passover! All of these thoughts were swimming around my head yesterday as I tried to figure out a menu for dinner. "A big pasta feast" is what Spencer had announced, and we all agreed. I had purchased a few of pounds of asparagus a day earlier with no special plan in mind. Am I the only one out there who buys excessive amounts of produce on impulse?

And no-so-coincidentally, I received an email with link to a Martha Stewart photo slideshow with dozens of asparagus recipes. No disrespect to Julia Child, but forget about the Julie & Julia blog, I could spend the next months and a half making each of these recipes. Camembert & asparagus bread pudding, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, asparagus soup... (note to self: don't forget to make asparagus soup this month!) And then I spied a recipe for asparagus, peas and radishes with fresh tarragon I had made from an issue of Every Day Food a few years back. If you have never tried this combination of flavors, it's unbelievable. (Yes, I know, you don't see any fresh tarragon in the photo above. Oops.)

But, pasta was clearly to be the plan for the night. Inspired by the asparagus and pea combination, as well as another asparagus and pasta recipe in the slideshow, a very simple idea formed for dinner. Yum, yum, yum.

And, a little-known fact. When we were (older) kids, our family drove 70 miles one way to visit a pick-your-own asparagus farm. Seriously.

Asparagus, Peas & Penne
Inspired by a few Martha Stewart asparagus recipes

8-10 oz penne, or another short pasta
2 lbs fresh asparagus
1/2 lb frozen green peas
1/4 C chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 C shredded or shaved parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of salted water to boil and add penne. Set timer 3 minutes shorter than recommended cook time on box. Meanwhile, wash asparagus, trim off ends and cut into 1 1/2" lengths. When timer sounds, add asparagus to boiling pot of pasta and boil for two additional minutes. Add the frozen peas, return to boil, and allow to finish cooking for one more minute.

Reserve 1/2 C of pasta water before draining everything together. Don't worry about getting all of the water out while draining. Transfer to a bowl and toss with tarragon, olive oil and salt & pepper. Add some reserved pasta water, or not. Serve with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Artichoke Bottom Antipasti

I don't really know what to call this. It's not my creation. I have to give props to Dee. I can cook, but I need a plan. A while back Dee hosted a weeknight dinner in her home (only hours after new kitchen appliances were installed - brave!) for a dozen hockey wives and we were treated to quite a feast. Everything was awesome. I left there learning that white bean bruschetta is amazing, and it has since been added to my party appetizer rotation. I also learned that preparing a simple 'salad' served in artichoke bottoms makes it worthy of a food blog entry.

Though the ladies' night was last year, I have to confess that I hadn't gotten around to making these until recently because I was a bit taken aback by the price of the bottoms at my favorite grocery store. But, Spencer's Sunday school took a field trip to a grocery store I usually avoid, for excessively high prices, where I discovered a reasonably-priced (Safeway) store brand of marinated artichoke bottoms. I grabbed two jars - labeled artichoke crowns - and was already anticipating the treat to accompany our meal that evening.
Since so many months had passed, I pulled the 'salad' components from memory. It can definitely be tinkered with depending on personal preference. The trick for presentation and mouth appeal is to cut everything in a very fine dice, about 1/8" cubes. This isn't really finger food (though our 2 1/2 year old has other opinions as she cups it with both hands) so I'd recommend serving as antipasti for a sit down meal, not for stand up appetizer.

Artichoke Bottom Antipasti
Inspired by Dee Paradine

1 12 oz jar marinated artichoke bottoms (approx. 8)
1/4 C finely diced celery hearts
1/4 C finely diced English (seedless) cucumber
1/4 C finely diced roasted red pepper
1/4 C finely diced tomato
A few tablespoons Italian salad dressing, or oil & vinegar
Salt & pepper

Dice all veggies and toss together in a bowl with salad dressing, or oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. If you are making this in advance, put salad in a small container in the fridge until ready. To serve, arrange artichoke bottoms on a serving plate and fill with salad.