Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mixing it Up - Bittman Style!

Even as much as I adore grilling in the summer, I still manage to get in a rut for ideas on what to make. I mean, really, how many different ways can you grill a chicken breast, right? I do love the larger cuts like brisket and ribs, and so forth, but those time-consuming items are reserved for Sundays when time is generally not a concern.

So, when I was making my grocery list last week, as usual, I asked the hubs if he had any suggestions. And, as usual, I got bupkus for a response. So, I fell into my usual routine of browsing the local grocer’s meat case, appealing to it to produce something new and attractive. On this occasion, I did actually find a small bit of inspiration. Nothing dramatic, but for some reason there was a glut of various sausages available during my weekly visit.

I grabbed up a package of Garlic Italian, one of Andouille, and a third of a local Bockwurst. Can you say “mixed grill”? I knew you could. I froze half of it for another day, and we grilled the three sausages, plus some sweet corn and farmers market asparagus for a nice, easy weeknight meal.
Pretty, no?

So here’s the twist. I was searching for a dish to make for I Heart Cooking Clubs this week (this being our monthly ‘Pot Luck’ theme) and was inspired yet again when I ran across Mark Bittman’s recipe for Asparagus Pesto.

Asparagus. Pesto. Yum! I love pesto. I love asparagus. I never would have dreamed to put the two together even though I have made a number of variations on pesto in the past.

Bittman’s recipe calls for boiling a pound of asparagus until tender but not mushy. Well, I had used up all my nice asparagus on the grill (and, in a skillet, when the propane bottle ran out halfway through the cooking process) the night before (and anyway, I’m not a fan of boiling vegetables) so I ran to the Wednesday night farmer’s market hoping to purchase another bundle.

Um, no. Its gone. Apparently the season is really over. So sad. But, undeterred, I had a brainstorm. I had the leftover asparagus in the fridge....and I had made quite a bit of it, so there was plenty for a half batch of Bittman’s pesto. Which is more than enough for me for dinner.

Excited, I ran home (ok, yes, I drove) got the food processor out (lucky me, it was still out from being used for something yet to be posted, and had been washed) and started chucking ingredients in the bowl.

Pestos are so easy, people. Really. I mean, its an herb or vegetable, oil, nuts, cheese, and maybe some acid. No recipe required (although I will post Bittman’s below, just for reference) just keep adding until it looks right.

Start with something green, in this case, about a half pound of leftover grilled/sautéed asparagus.
Toss in a handful of pine nuts (or almonds, hazelnuts, etc. Preferably toasted, but I was lazy last night and just tossed them right in).
Add a handful of grated parmesan.
(Normally I add garlic, but I was afraid in this case it would overwhelm the flavor of the asparagus, so I skipped it.)
Salt and pepper.
A good squeeze of lemon juice (about a half a lemon).
Put the top on the mixer, press ‘ON’, and drizzle olive oil through the top until the mixture forms a nice smooth paste.
My one tip is start small on the other ingredients, as you want your asparagus to be the center of attention. If you add too much cheese, and you are out of asparagus, you’re also out of luck, so add a little at a time if you’re a novice pesto maker.

And....PESTO!Lovely, What to do with it? I thought smearing it on crusty bread would be nice...if I had some. Which I didn’t. Crackers? Yeah, the saltines in my pantry weren’t exactly worthy of such a topping. A layer on a nice Panini with mozzarella and ham would be delish. I had the ham and cheese...again, no bread.

PASTA! I am usually hesitant to make a pesto pasta because it seems like the pesto just disappears on the noodles and becomes too subtle. This asparagus pesto was springy and pungent and I didn’t want to give up the lovely chunkiness of it. So what do I do? Make orzo.

Yep, I boiled up about a cup of orzo, and just mixed enough of it into the pesto to get the consistency I wanted, and VOILA! Fabulous. A lovely summertime dinner I couldn’t wait to dig my spoon into. This turned out so creamy and luscious, it wasn’t much different than a risotto in texture.The whole thing went together in about 15 minutes since I used leftover asparagus and I scarfed it down just as fast.

Thanks again, Mark Bittman, for a fabulous idea! I usually only cook as much asparagus as I intend to eat for that meal, but I’ll be grilling extra from now on, just so I can make pesto with the leftovers! This is my submission for I Heart Cooking Clubs and Presto Pasta Nights (check for the roundup later this week at this week!

Now, here’s the original recipe:
Asparagus Pesto
Kosher salt
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as desired
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well and shock with ice water to stop the cooking. Reserve some of the cooking liquid.
Transfer the cooled asparagus pieces to a food processor and add the garlic, hazelnuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid.
Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time to finish mixing.
Serve over pasta, fish or chicken. Top with chopped hazelnuts and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto. Keeps, covered and refrigerated for a day or two.


girlichef said...

"And....PESTO!" LOL :D I would have never thought to make a pesto from asparagus...but it sounds so good! And yeah, that mixed grill looks killer.

Kim said...

I like the sound of a mixed grill right now. We only have about one flavor of sausage here. Wish I could get my hands on the flavors you bought.
Asparagus pesto sounds awesome. Using orzo was a brilliant idea. It's one of my very favorite pasta shapes!

Debinhawaii said...

I am a huge fan of unique pestos and never would have thought of asparagus. It looks delicious with the orzo.
Great pick! ;-)

Joanne said...

Good call on the orzo! I have been loving sausages too lately...such an easy meal filled with so much flavor.

That pesto looks incredibly vibrant!

Krista said...

"Start with something green". So true. After recently making pesto from Poblano peppers, I realize that you can make pesto out of just about any green vegetable.

I love this idea, especially with the orzo. Looks SO good!

Giovanna said...

I am sure my husband will love this dish! So inventive of you : ) Your pesto looks wonderful!

David said...

Hahaha ... you had me at grilled sausages!

Ruth Daniels said...

I do love anything Mark B makes, and I love your version. Just bought some asparagus at the farmers market - guess what's on tap for dinner this week?

Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Night.

Anonymous said...

Asparagus pesto is new to me too. Just picked some up from the farmer's market this morning so I can definitely make this. I love using pesto sauce on my homemade pizzas so this will add a new twist to them.

I've been craving sausages too... yours made my mouth water!

Claudia said...

A great idea! And, I'll be cooking extra asparagus for it too.