Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gourmet, Unbound

Last night I made my recipe from a May issue of Gourmet. This one was from 2000,which it's hard to believe is ten years old already.

Each month, I start searching for the recipe I'll test for Gourmet, Unbound by going to my shelf of old issues, and checking for pages I might have tabbed back when I first received that magazine. This month I decided to try one of the recipes I'd tabbed in 2000. I checked the recipe on and found a range of reviews. Some reviewers loved the dish, and others thought it was bland. After testing it out last night, and enjoying the light, yet distinctive flavor, I think I've figured out the problem some of the reviewers might have had. It's possible that those who thought the dish was bland just didn't have really fresh asparagus. I was lucky that this is the beginning of high asparagus season in this area so I had asparagus fresh from the fields via the farmstand. I wonder if the Mexican or Peruvian imports have as much flavor.

Surprisingly, this dish does not overwhelm with the taste of asparagus. Even the less exuberant asparagus eater in my house enjoyed the dish. The lemon (I used one of my last Meyer lemons) lightened the flavor perfectly, though I added a little lemon juice - probably 1/2 lemon's worth - at the suggestion of many of the reviewers. The sauce is silky due to the addition of the pasta cooking water and, apart from the white pasta, is relatively healthy. It's mostly vegetable based with a hit of olive oil and parmigianno reggiano. I reduced the olive oil slightly from the recipe with no ill effects. I used three tablespoons of olive oil instead of a quarter cup.

The dish appears so simple with its brief ingredient list, but there are several steps to the process that you need to plan ahead for. Prep the asparagus, zest the lemon, and most importantly, put that water up to boil right away - you need to boil the pieces of asparagus spears for six to eight minutes (which I thought seemed a little to much so I reduced it to four or five minutes), and then blanch the tips, before you cook your pasta in that same water. If I wasn't also preparing a salad and a salmon dish to go alongside, it probably wouldn't have been a problem. When I make this next, I would not concurrently prepare something that requires last minute attention, as this is an of the moment sauce that should be served immediately.

Click here ( for the recipe at Epicurious.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trying to Get Going Again

I've been away far too long - busy, busy and not cooking so much, but the farm stands are reopening and my ideas are flowing a little bit once again. I had a lovely afternoon yesterday, brunching with other DC participants on The gracious Mrs. Wheelbarrow hosted us and it was a great opportunity to chat, for hours, with other food obsessed (in a good way!) people. Most of them are also bloggers, so now I've now got some new blogs to read and learn from.

I brought my smoked trout dip ( and a springtime farro dish. I was hoping to find peas and ramps at the farm stand that morning to create a dish with farro, peas and a ramp pesto. Unfortunately, I could get neither peas nor ramps, so I had to think fast. I love farro and thought that would still be a good base, but instead of peas, I used asparagus, pea shoots, parsley and some sharp micro greens. I quick thawed the last of my frozen pesto to use as a base. Giada DiLaurentiis does a farro with coarse pesto but it is very parsley based which I don't love as much as other herbs. For this, I started with some previously made basil pesto and added some finely chopped parsley and rough chopped pea shoots to the mix. Because this pesto did not have cheese added, I used a few tablespoons of goat cheese to make things a little creamy. Lastly, I sprinkled the micro greens on top for a little extra flavor. The beauty of the dish is the bright, springy flavor and the flexible ingredient list. You can easily sub peas for the asparagus and pea shoots and feel free to use any sort of pesto you like.

If you make your own pesto, try it without the parmigianno or pecorino sometime, and add a few tablespoons of goat cheese to the pesto and hot pasta or farro. It's a lighter and creamier taste and is nice for a change.

Farro, while not available in every store, is quite a bit easier to find these days than when I first started making it. I have seen it in Whole Foods, Balducci's, and Harris Teeter grocery stores, as well as my local organic market (Mom) and in specialty Italian grocers (in my area, Vace). It is not cheap, running between $6 and $10 for a just over a one pound bag, but one pound of farro is much heartier than one pound of pasta. It truly feeds a crowd.

I like to serve this as a side dish, but you could also use it as a main dish alongside a lettuce salad. As a side dish, it could accompany fish, chicken or meat quite well.

Springtime Farro

(serves 8 - 10 as a hearty side dish)

6 cups salted water

small bunch fresh asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into one-half to one inch pieces
2 cups farro (a little less than the 1.1 pound Rustichella d'Abruzzo package)
1/2 cup of your favorite pesto
1/4 cup goat cheese, if your pesto is cheese-less (If you're concerned about the cheese, feel free to try 2 tablespoons at first and taste after mixing. Add the other two tablespoons, one at a time, if you like)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 large handful pea shoots, rough chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring salted water to boil in a large saucepan. Once boiling, drop in the asparagus pieces. After 30 seconds to a minute, use a slotted spoon or a skimmer to pull out the asparagus pieces and drop them either into a bowl of cold water or into a strainer and run it under cold water. Do not drain the water as you'll use it for the farro as well.

2. Once the water comes back to boil, put in the farro and cover pan. Lower burner and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste farro to make sure it is soft, yet firm in the inside. Drain, reserving a half cup of the water.

3. Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix gently, but well. Add some of the reserved cooking water if it seems dry.

4. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.