Purchasing my first bundle of asparagus each year marks a tectonic shift in our kitchen. I feel ready to let go of heartier soups and starchy roots as I start to dream of the vibrant greens that only early spring can bring. Peas, wild nettles, bright salads, freshness...
Today I wanted to share a super easy dish that lets asparagus bask in its natural glory. Speaking of natural glory... have you tried storing your asparagus in water? It's a great way to keep the spears firm and fresh. I like the notion of treating asparagus like any other spring bloom... maybe I'm just a produce nerd, but I'd be quite happy to get a bouquet of asparagus in lieu of flowers.
- 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa orzo* (any orzo will do here, or you could substitute a few cups of cooked wild rice for this recipe)
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced
- 1 large or 2 small preserved lemons (if you don't have access to preserved lemons - I think using additional fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest would make a nice substitution). For details on making your own preserved lemons, here's a recipe for you.
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice + more to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + shaved Parm for serving
- freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
- for serving: arugula or chopped parsley; another squirt of fresh lemon juice; shaved Parm or crumbled goat cheese
Fill and large stock pot with tap water and salt very generously. Set pot over high heat and bring water to a boil.
In a large mixing bowl, set up an ice bath for the asparagus.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, blanch asparagus slices until vibrant green and just tender, depending on the thickness of your stalks, this could take 1-3 minutes. Don't pour out the cooking water, simply scoop out tender asparagus with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge the veg into an ice bath. Keep your salty cooking water on the stove and use it for your orzo.
Cook orzo until it reaches your desired texture. (For those of you using the Edison quinoa orzo, I've found that the cooking time is much longer than that suggested on the package.)
While the orzo is cooking, go ahead and make your dressing. A note on preserved lemons: when using preserved lemons, you want to discard the flesh and use only the peel. Rinse the pieces of preserved lemon peel and place them in a blender or food processor. Add olive oil, lemon juice, grated Parm, plenty of ground black pepper and salt to taste. Blitz all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add a little more lemon juice and/or salt as desired.
When the orzo has finished cooking, drain and transfer it to a serving dish. Pull asparagus from the ice bath, pat dry and add to the orzo. Generously dress the dish, adding additional salt or lemon juice to your liking.
Serve warm or room temp with ample freshly ground black pepper, shaved Parm or creamy goat cheese, scattered arugula leaves or chopped herbs. Although not necessary, I like to give the dish one last squeeze of fresh lemon juice just to bring out the springy brightness.
BTW, did you guys read the new piece by Mark Bittman about cooking and eating in Berkeley? I'm happy to see Mark so enjoying California produce and our beloved Monterey Market, but I have to say... I'm scared that the already-insane parking lot situation is about to get much much worse!