Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs

It feels like the big wind-down right about now. The kids have a month of school left, yes, but they've already taken their big tests, had their spring concerts. (Birdy playing Space Oddity on electric guitar! Be still my heart.) The lilacs have given way to the peonies. My cigar-tube vase is full of bleeding hearts and lilies of the valley and even, already, a purple iris. 

The cat is finding nice shady spots to rest in. 

We've eaten the last of our friends' morels, picked from beneath their apple trees. Sauteed with butter and wine and cream. 

Perfection on toast.
Ben is in summer bartending mode.

Fresh cherry-mint mojito.
And we are eating a lot of salads. Partly because Birdy's arugula patch is like something UFOed down from a planet that has devoted all of eternity to perfecting the growing of arugula, and partly because that's just what we (as in *I*) feel like eating all the time. Salad and bread and cheese. Spring food.

Arugula with peppered farm cheese, slivered dates, toasted almonds, and a warm white-wine-vinegar vinaigrette. Can I get an amen? I promise that if I had pictures of Michael and me fighting about stupid stuff, I'd post those too. 
And the salad, below, with a long headnote explaining itself. We ate it at home, and had enough for lunch the next day. It would be perfect for a potluck.

Meanwhile, I have pieces to read here at Parents, and here, at the brand-new Motherwell, if you are so inclined! Thank you, as always, for being here.

Warm Quinoa Salad with Asparagus and Herbs
This is the kind of thing I always want to eat for dinner: fresh and wholesome and incredibly tasty, with lots of different flavors and textures to keep you interested through an entire bowlful. It’s also the kind of thing that mostly uses ingredients I have already, except for whatever the main veg is. In this case, a friend of ours had given us a lovely bunch of green garlic, which actually inspired me to make this. And all our herbs are flourishing, so all I had to do was pop out to the asparagus stand nearby! I was also inspired by Anna Jones’ A ModernWay to Eat, which I checked out of the library. She makes a similar salad, but using broccoli and spinach and different kinds of seeds. Feel free to swap those in for the asparagus, or to use snap peas or green beans if that’s what you’ve got. A diced red radish would be nice too!

Kosher salt
1 ½ cups quinoa
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek or some green garlic, thinly sliced, or ½ an onion, finely chopped
1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
1 cup of fresh or frozen green peas (I didn’t have these, but I wished I did!)
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper
2 tablespoons capers
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used mint, basil, parsley, and chives)
1 cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or almonds, if you prefer)
Chive blossoms for garnish, if you have them

Bring a medium or large pot of water to a bowl over high heat and salt it heavily. It should taste as salty as the sea, so we are talking a fair amount of salt. Add the quinoa and stir, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook it for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, until it is just tender and the grains have spiraled open a bit. (It will continue to cook as it steams, so don’t cook it until it’s soft at this point.)

Drain it really, really well in a fine sieve—I mean, really shake it around to get the water out—then put it back in the pot, stretch a doubled dish towel over the top of the pot, and put the lid back on. Leave it to steam for 5 or 10 minutes, or up to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a wide pan over medium-low heat, and sauté the leeks (or whatever you’re using for this) with a large pinch of salt, until they’re tender. This may take a while, up to 15 minutes, so if they start to dry out go ahead and add a splash or two of water. When the leeks are tender, add the asparagus, and sauté until just bright green. Turn the heat off. If you’ve erred on the side of overcooking the asparagus, transfer everything to a large bowl, otherwise you can leave it in the pan with the heat off to cook a little longer.

At some point, add the frozen peas to something still hot so that they thaw and briefly steam. The quinoa pot is a good choice, as is the panful of asparagus.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a glass measuring cup or just a glass, add the zest and a teaspoon of kosher salt (or half as much table salt), then measure in enough olive oil to match the level of the lemon juice. Season with black pepper and whisk to combine.

Put the quinoa, vegetables, and capers in a large bowl and pour most of the dressing over. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and taste. The feta will add some saltiness, but if it’s radically undersalted at this point, add some more salt. Likewise, add the rest of the dressing and/or a bit of lemon and/or olive oil if it needs livening up or seems underdressed. The key to this being delicious is to season it really well.

Stir in the herbs, feta, and pine nuts, taste one last time, garnish, and serve.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Butter-Basted One-Pan Asparagus

I am in the very thick of my spring love affair. Oh the lilacs! The dogwood! The violets and lilies of the valley and the mint coming fast and furious! The sunlit awakenings and long blue days and sunlit dinners! I mean, my god. Last night after we'd finished eating we watched a big, fat ground hog eating big, fat dandelions, and it was like a cartoon.

Plus, asparagus is in season here, and we really do gorge on it while it's gorgeous.

For Mother's Day Michael roasted asparagus in the oven and served it with my very most favorite dinner: cheese and crackers. But, like, really good cheese, and three different kinds of crackers, and I was in total heaven. I would eat cheese and crackers for dinner every single night if it were allowed. Plus, when you eat it for dinner, instead of before dinner, you can eat as much as you want. Or so I tell myself.

Speaking of Mother's Day, Birdy and I spent the weekend at the most incredible rug-making workshop taught by the most incredible Crispina Frrench at the most amazing Snow Farm, which is like art camp for grown-ups (and teens). We went in the fall too, and I wrote about it here. After I write the bestselling Catastrophic Da Vinci Code, we are going to go every weekend.

What, this old rug? [shrugs modestly]
In other news, a child in my family sustained a sports injury! What? I know! Birdy sprained her ankle playing ultimate Frisbee. I was a little patronizing about it, until it turned into a giant purple balloon, and I then I was like, "Oh, I see!" (Notice how smug she looks.)
Anyhoo, asparagus. I always think I couldn't possibly find a simpler way to cook it, and then I do. This method produces lovely, buttery, crisp-tender asparagus: your teeth find some resistance, but then the inside of each spear is all stringy tenderness. (That sounded better in my head than it sounds now, written out, but I'll just leave it there.) Try it. And share your own favorite asparagus methods, if you would be so kind!

The salmon eaters in our family ate it with salmon, and I made this sauce for it. Oh my god! So good. Lightly whipped cream with a little mustard and lemon zest and herbs (I used tarragon and chives) and my own personal addition of chopped capers to make it taste like a cross between pie topping and tartar sauce. Delish.
The non-salmon eaters were served herby scrambled eggs.  Everyone had toast because, well, toast.
Butter-Basted One-Pan Asparagus
Adapted from this recipe for green beans, which I adapted from this recipe for green beans.

2 bunches asparagus (around 2 pounds), ends snapped off
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
¼ cup water
6 tablespoons butter
Squeeze of lemon and a bit of grated lemon zest (optional)

Put everything but the lemon in a wide, lidded skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cover it. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down so that it simmers steadily, and use tongs to mix the asparagus around occasionally, so that everyone gets a chance to be where the butter is.

Eventually, the liquid will evaporate and the asparagus will be buttery and done—start checking them at around 3 minutes (little ones will take a little bit of time, and fatter ones will take more time) and turn the heat off when they’re cooked to your liking—or, really, just shy of your liking, since they’ll cook a little more after.

Use tongs to move the asparagus to a platter, and evaluate the liquid left in the pan. If it’s just a buttery, glazey juice, then scrape it over the asparagus. If the asparagus have given up a lot of liquid, then boil this liquid briskly for a minute over high heat until it’s more butter than juice. Either way, if you’re using it, add the lemon juice and zest to the pan before scraping its contests over the asparagus. Done. Perfect.