It’s time for a little Spring food around here! Saturday morning I got up early for the first Evanston Farmer’s Market of the year. It was a beautiful, sunny Spring morning, if a little cool. I was delighted to wander the market early so I could catch up with all the farmers that I’ve missed through the winter, hear how things are going on their farms and ask after their families. All the shoppers were smiling and clearly thrilled to snap up the first harvests of the season. The selection at the market is still that of the early season, but no matter – there’s plenty of good things to be made with asparagus, onions, green garlic, herbs and lettuces.
After chatting with the farmers, it was only natural to run into friends and neighbors that I’d also missed during our winters’ hibernation, My normally quick forage through the market extended to well over an hour’s stay once I’d stopped to talk with several friends. The community consensus seemed to be appreciation and joy to have fresh, local foods again. Amen. For the first dish of the local eating season, I can think of nothing better than a simple main dish highlighting the first star of Spring – asparagus.
If you haven’t tried roasted asparagus yet, do give it a try. Drizzled with a little olive oil and salt and roasted briefly at high heat, it concentrates the flavor of the asparagus, and I found it hard to stop nibbling on the stalks and leave some for the pilaf. I kept the flavors pretty simple and mild here, to really make the veggies and herbs the star of the show. If you’re feeling fancy, a few curls of parmesan or toasted pinenuts would be welcome, but try not to gussy it up too much – it’s all about the asparagus.
Note: if you’re going to store asparagus for a day or two in the fridge, it’ll stay beautifully crisp if the stalks are stored upright with the stalk ends in a bit of water.
Roasted Asparagus Carrot Quinoa Pilaf
1 bunch asparagus stalks, washed well and dried (about a half pound)
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/3″ thick coins
1 1/2 T olive oil, divided
3/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 stalk green garlic, sliced (or one clove regular garlic)
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 cup quinoa (dry)
2 cups water
3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/4 cup minced chives
1/4 cup minced parsley
lots of fresh ground black pepper
squeeze of lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wash the asparagus well in a couple changes of water to get all of the sand out of the stalks, then drain and dry them well by rolling them up in a kitchen towel to soak up any lingering water. Place the asparagus on a small sheet pan, and drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt.
- Slice the peeled carrots into 1/3″ thick coins and place in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle a little olive oil over the carrots and sprinkle with a little kosher salt – toss to coat. Spread the carrots on another small sheet pan, making sure that the carrots are in one layer. Place the asparagus and carrots in the oven and roast for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, stir the carrots, then remove the asparagus and set aside to cool. Roast the carrots for another 12-15 minutes, until the edges of the carrots just begin to crisp. Remove the carrots from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven off.
- While the vegetables are roasting, make the quinoa. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add 1 1/2 T butter. Once the butter has melted, add the minced onion and green garlic to the pan with a pinch of kosher salt and stir to coat the onions in the butter. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the onions and green garlic have begun to soften. Scoop the onions and garlic into your rice cooker bowl (or a pot on the stove) add the quinoa and 2 cups of water along with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and cook until the quinoa is cooked fully. Fluff with a fork and set the quinoa aside to cool for a few minutes.
- Finally, slice the roasted asparagus spears into bite-sized pieces and toss into a big mixing bowl along with the carrots, chives, parsley and quinoa. Gently mix the ingredients together and season with lots of fresh ground black pepper and a squeeze or two of lemon juice. Serve.