One of the best things about belonging to your local Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) is how quickly the season gears up — and how big your box of veggies gets. Our first few distributions of the summer season are teasers. Just yesterday, we got eight sprigs of basil — yet the smell was enough to make me giddy thinking of the big bags that we will get in July and August. Our smallish bunches of asparagus have given way to much bigger bunches and I’m already over my head in spinach and rhubarb. And the radishes, how I love the radishes — they are eaten the minute they get in the house. (Given all this talk of wonderful produce, I should give a shout out to my fantastic CSA, Village Acres Farm.)
You quickly start to plan meals based on what needs to be used, rather than what you are in the mood for. But I find that it allows you to become much more creative in the kitchen — matching what you have with what sounds good. This dish is a perfect example. We were invited to a friend’s house for a party and I decided that morning to make a pasta salad. A quick survey of the fridge revealed lots of spinach, a big bunch of asparagus, and some lovely green onions. And the backyard mint patch was taking hold in a way that only mint knows how to do. It definitely couldn’t be a vinegar-based dressing though — these ingredients called for lemons.
And so I flew by the seat of my pants but it came together really nicely — in about 30 minutes flat. It would make a great picnic side dish, but also a nice vegetarian main course on a summer night. I think the asparagus could easily be swapped out for green beans once asparagus season ends. Serve it to me with a nice Sauvignon Blanc and I might just give you a hug. After I eat my radish and soft butter sandwiches and my rhubarb ice cream, of course.
Spring Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Spinach, and Mint
1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into one inch pieces
4 or 5 green onions
1 small bunch of mint
1 cup of spinach (packed), stemmed and chopped
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3/4 cup of olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan
1 cup of sunflower seeds or pine nuts, toasted
1 lb. of whole wheat pasta (I used rigatoni, but penne or a similar type would be great)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Prepare a medium bowl with an ice bath (just lots of ice and water, really). Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes and remove quickly and place into the ice bath to stop the cooking. When most of the ice has melted, remove asparagus with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to dry.
2. In the same pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions.
3. Meanwhile, make the dressing. In the food processor, combine 2 or 3 green onions (in chunks), zest of two lemons, juice of two lemons (about 1/4 cup), olive oil, 1-2 tablespoons of mint (packed), 2 teaspoons of salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Process until smooth and place dressing in a large bowl.
4. Drain pasta well and pour into bowl with dressing. It is good to do this while the pasta is still hot because it will soak up the dressing. Toss well and let cool slightly.
5. Chop remaining 2 or 3 green onions, spinach, and 2 tablespoons of mint. Mix into pasta and dressing. Add cooked asparagus, 1/2 cup of parmesan, and toss well. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
6. Chill for several hours (if possible) for flavors to mix and dressing to absorb into pasta.
7. When ready to serve, give it a good stir and make sure there is enough dressing. If not, add a little more olive oil. Season more if necessary. Mix in toasted sunflower seeds or pine nuts, and garnish top with additional chopped mint, green onions, and parmesan cheese if desired.