Tag Archives: asparagus

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

There are certain recipes that have nearly cult followings online, and the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad is one of them.  I’ve never had it in person, but have heard so many people rave about it that I recently decided to put my own spin on it.  It seemed fitting — fresh, small game hens and asparagus from the farmer’s market, and a loaf of sourdough bread from a wonderful bakery downtown.  I hadn’t planned to make it, but sometimes things just come together at the right time.   I made it on a week night, but my bet is that you might want to save it for the weekend as it is somewhat more time consuming than other recipes I post.

That is not to say it is difficult, though.  It just requires more steps and separate preparation methods for multiple ingredients.  But in the end, it is beyond worth it.  The salad is garlicky and lemony with chewy bread toasted in olive oil, enriched with roasted asparagus and fennel, and topped with roasted chicken that will have you licking your fingers throughout.  It would make a fantastic dish for entertaining, because you can prep most of the ingredients beforehand, and then simply compose the salad after roasting or grilling the chicken.  (Just save it for guests who don’t mind deliciousness that necessitates finger licking.)

We split our game hens into halves and my husband grilled them over a charcoal fire (he gets props for the chicken being insanely good).  However, you could just as easily roast them in the oven halved or whole.  If you do them over charcoal, he would suggest starting the halves over the coals, skin side down, for a quick searing of the skin, and then moving them to the center to cook indirectly until they are just done.  Keep a drip pan underneath them as you would typically do in a charcoal fire, and save the drippings so you can mix a bit into the salad at the end.  Don’t overcook and let the chicken rest for ten minutes or so before serving so it stays juicy.

Just be sure to put a stack of napkins on the table and pour yourself a nice, chilled glass of white wine before you dig in.  Spring couldn’t get much more perfect.

Springtime Grilled Chicken Bread Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Fennel

Serves 4-6

2 small game hens, or 1 small roasting chicken
Olive oil
Fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 loaves of crusty sourdough or peasant bread (about 1 1/2 pounds, to yield 1 pound of crustless bread cubes)
1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1 bunch of asparagus, stemmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, sliced and reserving 2 T of chopped fronds
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 or 2 scallions, chopped
2 or 3 large handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried

Dressing:
1/3 cup of olive oil
Zest of one lemon, chopped
1/2 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
Juice of 1/2 of a lemon, or more to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Split game hens in half (disregard if roasting whole) and place on a tray.  Drizzle with olive oil and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.   Sprinkle generously with chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage (or other herbs of your choice) and rub the halves so the seasonings cover the chicken well.  Put in refrigerator until ready to grill.

2.  Remove crusts from bread (take a thin layer off, but you don’t have to be 100% perfect … a little crust is OK) and tear bread into bite-sized cubes.  I threw the crusts into a ziploc bag in the freezer and will use them for croutons in a salad at some point.  Place bread cubes onto a cookie sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the pumpkin seeds on a separate, small baking sheet.  Put both the bread cubes and pumpkin seeds in the oven to toast.  The pumpkin seeds will take about 5-7 minutes and the bread cubes will take about 7-10 minutes.  I broiled my bread cubes for a minute or two at the end, so they had some toastier parts.  Remove both items from oven and set aside at room temperature.

3.  In a roasting pan, combine asparagus pieces and sliced fennel.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in oven for about 20 minutes until they are nicely cooked (but not overdone) and the fennel starts to caramelize a bit.  You can also broil this for a minute or two at the end if you want a little extra char or caramelization.  Remove from oven and toss with chopped garlic, chopped scallions, and chopped fennel fronds.  Set aside at room temperature. (Steps 1-3 could be done early in the day if you are entertaining.)

4.  Remove chicken from refrigerator and prepare charcoal grill for an indirect fire.  (If you like, you can start the grill before steps 2 and 3 if you are doing this all at once, rather than prepping ahead of time.)  Place chicken halves over the fire on the grill (with a drip pan in the middle), skin side down and sear for 2-3 minutes.  Flip and move to center of the grill (over the drip pan) and cook indirectly for about 30-40 minutes until done.  Remove to platter and let rest for about 10 minutes.

5.  While chicken is cooking, combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl (could also be made ahead of time).  In a large salad bowl, combine toasted bread cubes, roasted asparagus and fennel, and toasted pumpkin seeds.

6.  While chicken is resting, skim a layer of fat off of the drippings and mix one or two tablespoons of remaining drippings with bread cubes and other ingredients.  Add a few handfuls of salad greens and toss with about half of the dressing.  Taste for seasoning and add more dressing if necessary, as well as additional salt and pepper.

7.  To serve, give each person a nice helping of the bread salad, top with a portion of the roasted chicken (a leg, thigh, or breast piece — or a combo) and serve with remaining dressing on the side.

 

Spring Pasta Salad with Aparagus, Spinach, and Mint

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.)

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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.

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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

Serves 8

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
Sea Salt
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.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

At the beginning of last summer, we decided to abandon our patio as a dining room.  We had the obligatory table and chairs outside and never ever sat there.  Because the patio is right spanking next to our eat-in kitchen, it just always seemed so pointless to lug all of our food outside.  And then the table was always dirty and covered with pollen — and well, I am lazy.

So we sold the table and chair set at our yard sale and bought an outdoor loveseat, two chairs with big ottomans, and a coffee table.  And we threw down an outdoor rug and proceeded to spend the entire summer sitting on our patio.  We would have a glass of wine while the kids played in the yard before dinner.  After putting the two year old to bed, we would sit out there with our daughter and read mystery books.  We had friends over and lots of impromptu, small parties.  On several occasions, my husband and I sat out there after the kids were in bed and fell sound asleep.

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We couldn’t wait to get our furniture back out this spring and start to enjoy it all over again.  And guess what?  We eat out there more now than ever before.  The kids eat their lunch at the coffee table and we have relaxed dinners in our comfy chairs.    It was all a matter of redefining our space and not feeling so bound by the rules.  (“We have patio.  Must buy table and chairs.”)

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So our outdoor dining matches our new space — small plates of easy to eat things that are relaxed and fun.  Grilled pizzas are one of our favorites.  We usually do two pizzas — the first one with sauce and cheese (or tomatoes and basil once summer is in full swing) to please the kids and the second one with ingredients more suited for grown-ups.  We cook on charcoal and have found that the best way to grill the pizzas is over indirect heat, with a brief stint over the coals if you want to crisp it up even more.  If you have all of your ingredients ready to go, just bring them out on a tray and make the pizzas in stages.  It’s great small party food.  Let the kids run wild and eat as you go.

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Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, and Brandied Figs

Serves 6 (makes 2 large pizzas)

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 lbs.

I like to make my own using the dough cycle of my breadmaker, but feel free to buy a ball of dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop.  Here’s my recipe for the breadmaker (use your dough setting — which is one hour and thirty minutes on my machine).  Just dump the following in and get the rest of your stuff ready while you wait.  (BTW, this makes enough for two pizzas.)

2 cups of white whole wheat flour
2 cups of all purpose white flour
3/4 t. sea salt
2 t. active dry yeast (about one package)
1 3/8 cup water (room temperature or slightly warm)
3 T. olive oil

If you want to make the dough ahead of time, just put a bit of olive oil on it and cover it tightly in a bowl in the fridge.

Topping Prep

This makes enough to top one large pizza.  If you want to do both of your crusts with these ingredients (i.e. you don’t have picky kids who only want sauce and cheese), just double the following ingredients.

1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil (plus additional for sauteeing)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Red Pepper Flakes
1 small bunch of Asparagus, trimmed and chopped into one inch pieces
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, freshly grated (or other cheeses — Fontina and Camembert are great too.)
6 dried figs (or fresh if you have them), stemmed and chopped
Brandy, optional
Salt and Pepper
Fresh herbs, optional (basil, chives, etc.)

1.  Caramelize onion.  Here’s my quick method… Saute the onion over medium high heat for 3-5 minutes until starting to brown.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water and scrape up any brown bits.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 additional minutes uncovered until nicely caramelized and soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

2.  Saute asparagus in a bit of olive oil until just slightly softened (they should still be a bit crunchy).  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3.  Warm a bit of brandy in the microwave or on the stove (on a low power level) with the chopped dried figs.  Let them sit in the warm brandy for 10-15 minutes until softened.  Give them a quick rinse to remove the heavy alcohol flavor, pat dry, and set aside.

4.  Make your seasoning oil by warming the 1/3 cup of olive oil over low heat until just warmed.  Add chopped garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and salt and pepper.  Set aside.

The Pizza Grilling

1.  Preheat your charcoal (indirect method — which means coals should be on the perimeter, not in the center) or gas grill to about 350 F.

2.  Roll out half of your pizza dough (about a 1 pound dough ball) until it is very thin.  I like to do this on  a parchment lined jelly roll pan with a small wooden rolling pin (a clean bottle works too).  It should roll out to about 10″x12″.  (Rectangular shapes are easier for the grill.)

3.  Brush a bit of olive oil on the crust.  Put the oiled side down on the grill.  Don’t worry about getting the dough on the grill — just lift it off the sheet pan and drape it down onto the grilling grate.  It is pretty resilient.

4.  Let cook 3-5 minutes until starting to crisp and brown slightly on the underside.  Using tongs or a spatula, flip the pizza crust over.

5.  Drizzle several tablespoons of the garlic/red pepper seasoning oil onto the crust.

6.  Scatter the caramelized onion, sauteed asparagus, and chopped figs over the pizza crust.  Cover with shredded cheese.  Drizzle with additional seasoning oil if desired.  Close or cover grill to help the cheese melt.  Cook 2-3 more minutes, making sure underside does not get too brown.  If you want it extra crispy, move the pizza over the coals for a minute or so.

7.  When cheese is melted, use a big spatula to help you guide the pizza onto a tray.  Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh chopped herbs if you like.

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Spring Pasta with Brown Butter, Asparagus, Peas, and Chanterelle Mushrooms

I often think that my laziness has been great fuel for my cooking creativity.   There are so many days when I stare into my pantry (while my two year old desperately attempts to clutch every box of crackers in it) and think that there is absolutely nothing to cook.  And then I walk away and go back in again.  And then I look at my kids and can’t stand the thought of a late afternoon trip to the grocery store with both children, trying to do three point turns in the race car cart, fulfilling bagel requests, and praying to the grocery store Gods that the check out lines are no more than two deep.

So that’s when I go for pasta.  These type of quick pasta dinners are mid-week staples around here.  They are great for a night off from meat, can easily be made into a “one bowl” kind of meal with veggies included, they usually require no grocery store trips, and are super quick.  And there is something about spring and summer that just seems to call out for light pasta meals with fresh vegetables.  And aside from the asparagus and herbs, this was basically a pantry meal.  But there are plenty of nights where we have basically the same dish with peas and pasta with a nice salad on the side.  

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So, I give you pasta.  The meal that preserves your sanity.

Spring Pasta with Brown Butter, Asparagus, Peas, and Chanterelle Mushrooms (serves 4 with leftovers)

10 oz. dried pasta (this is about 2/3 of a package and any kind will do, we used whole grain thin spaghetti)
1/2 oz. package of dried mushrooms (I had chanterelles, any kind of dried mushrooms are great pantry staples though)
1 cup of white wine or water
1 bunch of aparagus
Fresh Chervil or other herbs (flat leaf parsley would be great too, or skip it)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
Frozen Peas
1 cup of grated Parmesan
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar/Olive Oil

1.  Put a large pot of cold water on the stove and salt it generously (it’s imperative to salt your pasta water well — that’s where a lot of flavor comes from).

2.  Take one cup of wine or water and heat it in a small bowl for about a minute in the microwave.  Add dried mushrooms to heated wine/water and let soak for about 30 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, prep your asparagus by washing them and removing tough ends (snap where it breaks easily and you should be good).  Cut asparagus into 1 1/2 inch pieces and set aside.

4.  Chop 2 cloves garlic and fresh chervil/herbs (if using).

5.  Grate parmesan.

6.  Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add 1/2 stick of butter and melt.  Stir constantly after it has melted.  Your goal is brown butter — which will smell nutty and fragrant.  If you cook it too much, it will definitely burn (I’ve done it plenty of times, just start over).  It should take about 2-3 minutes.  When it starts to smell nicely, just keep stirring and as it turns brownish, remove from heat immediately.  Stir in chopped garlic and set aside.

7.  Bring pasta water to the boil.  

8.  If you feel like it, remove mushrooms from wine/water, chop them, and then strain the liquid through a coffee filter and set aside (you can use it on the pasta).  If you don’t feel like it, just squeeze the mushrooms to remove any liquid and chop roughly.  You can use some white wine or just a little of the pasta water in place of mushroom liquid.

9.  When water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, put your saute pan with brown butter and garlic back on the heat and reheat it to medium-high.  

10.  Saute asparagus in brown butter/garlic mixture until tender and bright green.  Add some frozen peas, chopped mushrooms, and 1/4 cup of either the mushroom soaking liquid or wine (or scoop out some of the pasta water).  Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Remove from heat.

11.  Drain pasta when done.  Put pasta back in pasta pot on the stove and dump contents of saute pan (brown butter, asparagus, peas, mushrooms, and liquid) onto drained pasta.  Stir in grated parmesan, fresh chervil/herbs, and extra salt and pepper to taste (and some extra mushroom liquid/wine/pasta water if it is too dry).

12.  Stir well when serving b/c the veggies have a tendency to sink to the bottom.  Plate the pasta and veggies, sprinkle with some extra parm, and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (if you like, I find the fruitiness of the olive oil goes nicely with the nuttiness of the brown butter).  

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