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12 posts from June 2019

06/30/2019

~Lovely Lemon-Infused EVOO & Asparagus Recipes~

IMG_1878 2In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  This has been a banner year for it, which is why I could not resist dedicating the past two weeks to sharing a few asparagus recipes prepared my favorite way:  enhanced by the flavor of lemon -- more specifically lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil.  For those of you that don't know, asparagus adores the flavor of lemon, and so will you. 

Choosing, Prepping & Storing Amazing Asparagus

Asparagus begins losing its flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Start by removing the woody stalk ends.  Every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat.  When gently bent, each stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender. Once trimmed, gather it up and stand it in a glass containing 1/2" water and store, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

IMG_1895Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen

Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2176Breakfast:  Asparagus & Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO

The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

IMG_2326Lunch:  Asparagus Salad w/Lemon-Infused White-Balsamic Vinaigrette

A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and herbes de Provence, is the star of this show.

IMG_2107Dinner:  Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto

Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No cheese please -- cheese, in any form, in this delicate dish, is all wrong.

IMG_2021Hors D'oeuvre:  Amazingly-Lemony Roasted Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy.  We ate it steamed, in the Spring, for holidays and special occasions, and, when we reserved a table at a restaurant -- restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. Over the years it became readily available to home cooks who came to realize that roasting elevated the flavor and texture. The addition of prosciutto puts it in the pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-to-eat finger-food category.

IMG_1940Appetizer:  Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus Cocktail w/Creamy Lemon Dip

How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2260Side-Dish: Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly Shallow-Poached Asparagus

Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_2061"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/28/2019

~Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO~

IMG_2326The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

Oil-frying eggs is more common than one might think.

IMG_2335I didn't invent oil-fried eggs, and, culturally, it's more common that one might think.  Cooks have been frying eggs in animal fat, oil, margarine and butter for as long as people have been eating fried eggs.  I can, however, say that when I do oil-fry eggs, I use either chili- garlic or lemon-infused oil.  It just makes sense.  Generic olive oil, unless it is flavor-infused, pales in comparison to the taste of butter, so, why bother.  That said, I truly can't remember the first time I decided to throw a few asparagus spears into the skillet with my lemon-infused olive-oil fried eggs, and, it hardly matters.  What does matter is that one morning, when I opened my refrigerator to get my eggs, a glass containing some freshly-picked asparagus spears just happened to be right there.

IMG_2340Infused-oil fried eggs are tastier than one can imagine.

IMG_23041-1 1/2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

2  extra-large or jumbo eggs

3-6  thin-to-medium thickness fresh asparagus spears

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

~ Step 1.  Tap, crack and break the eggs into a ramekin -- I do this to make certain the yolks don't break when they drop into the pan.  If time permits, allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307~Step 2.  Heat oil in a 8" skillet over medium-high heat.  Swirl skillet around to make sure oil coats entire bottom.  Carefully slide the eggs from the ramekin into the skillet.  Cook until the whites turn a bit opaque, add the asparagus spears wherever there is room, then, season everything with salt and pepper.  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until eggs are done to your liking.  Slide eggs and asparagus from skillet to plate and serve immediately.

To change it up, try them with garlic- or chili-infused EVOO too:

IMG_2333Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO:  Recipe yields 1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  ramekin; 8" nonstick skillet

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/26/2019

~Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip~

IMG_2266How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2280For the pucker-up lemon sauce for seafood or vegetables:

Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

For the grilled shrimp, asparagus & cherry tomatoes:

Be aware, while simple and straightforward, this recipe is very specific to the size of the shrimp (16/20 count), the thickness of the asparagus (medium), and, the type of tomatoes (whole grape). Why? Because everything cooks at the same time, in the same amount of time, in the same grill pan. Even the olive oil, which is extra-virgin and lemon-infused, makes a difference -- fresh lemon juice won't produce the same result.  This means: do not make substitutions then complain to me if the end result isn't cooked to perfection -- mess with the recipe, mess with perfection.

IMG_2296For each appetizer-size portion:

6  extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined with the pretty tails left on

6  medium-thickness asparagus spears, properly trimmed of stalk ends

6 whole grape tomatoes

1-2  tablespoons lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2302~ Step 1.  Place the shrimp, asparagus and tomatoes on a shallow plate and drizzle the lemon oil over all. Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of each piece to thinly-coat it with oil.  Season the top surface of all with a few grinds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

Note:  If you're making multiple servings, it goes without saying, to place all of the ingredients on a larger platter to coat and season them all at the same time.

IMG_2244 IMG_2244~ Step 2.  Spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and heat over medium-high on stovetop. When hot, arrange shrimp, slightly-apart, in hot center, then, around the perimeter of pan, arrange the asparagus and tomatoes.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, using a pair of tongs to turn each ingredient over only once, about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. Shrimp will be light golden, asparagus will have a slight char and tomatoes will be blistered.

Golden shrimp, charred asparagus & blistered tomato perfection:

IMG_2255Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip:  Recipe yields 1 appetizer-sized serving.

Special Equipment List: pastry brush; nonstick grill pan; tongs

IMG_2021 IMG_2107Cook's Note: For a variation on the theme of seafood with asparagus and cherry tomatoes, try my yummy and easy recipes for ~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~ and ~ Asparagus Salad w/Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019) 

06/23/2019

~ Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables ~

IMG_2255Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.  

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

Pucker up because a little bit of this dip goes a long way!

IMG_2266Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables:  Recipe yields 1/2 cup creamy lemon dip/2, 1/4 cup servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1 cup food- storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note: Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.  Speaking of creamy mayonnaise-based condiments, ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~ is a post of mine that always gets folks talking.  Everyone has their favorite brand, and, I am no exception. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/20/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus ~

IMG_2221Asparagus, served hot off the grill grids, drizzled with a bit of lemon-infused EVOO and white balsamic vinaigrette, is one of my favorite Summer side-dishes.  Name it -- grilled steak, chicken or seafood, it plays well with them all.  Interestingly, I sometimes serve it as an hors d'oeuvre too -- it pairs perfectly with melon wrapped in prosciutto.  There's just something downright delightful about picking up a medium-to-fat, crunch-tender asparagus spear in my fingertips, politely swishing it a pucker-up, creamy, lemon sauce and savoring the lightly-charred flavor. 

Just eat.  It's too simple for words, hence this short post.

IMG_2243Grilling asparagus is so simple, it barely requires writing a recipe.  Just toss the trimmed stalks in some lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil (just enough to lightly-coat), season the spears with some freshly-ground sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, then, place them directly on the hottest part of the grill grids for a couple very short minutes -- about 3-4 minutes for medium-thick asparagus, 5-6 minutes for thicker ones.  No fuss, no muss, no prep.  Just grill and eat.

IMG_2196For two appetizer servings:

4  ounces, trimmed, medium-thick asparagus spears (12 spears)

1  tablespoon lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, high-quality store-bought or made from scratch in the home kitchen

15 grinds sea salt

15 grinds peppercorn blend

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 1 (optional but highly recommended by me).  To make 1/4 cup of my favorite creamy, lemon sauce, mix together 4 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Set aside.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185~Step 2.  After trimming the asparagus (see Cook's Note below), line them up, side-by-side, in a single layer on a plate.  Slowly drizzle the lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil over the surface.  Using a pastry brush, paint the asparagus with the EVOO to coat.  Sprinkle a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over the surface.  Set aside.

IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184~Step 3.  Heat an outdoor gas grill over high setting, or, place a grill pan that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray over high heat on stovetop.  Place asparagus, side-by-side, slightly apart, in a single layer across the hot grill grids.  Grill, using tongs to turn only once, until asparagus is lightly charred and cooked to desired degree of doneness, about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (or until desired degree of doneness is reached).  Remove from heat and serve ASAP.

Remove from grill or grill pan & serve ASAP:

IMG_2230Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus:  Recipe yields instructions to grill medium-thick fresh asparagus spears.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush; outdoor gas grill or indoor stovetop grill pan; tongs

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/18/2019

~ Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen ~

IMG_2176Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, plus, a tad of Dijon mustard, lemon-infused EVOO & white balsamic vinaigrette is born. It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and because the lemon flavor is infused right in the oil, as opposed to just a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in the lemon-luscious flavor.

Two ingredients plus a bit of patience is all it takes.

IMG_21501  cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, the best available and/or your favorite brand

2  large, ripe lemons, preferably organic

Scrub & dry the lemons.

IMG_2142~ Step 1.  Scrub the lemons clean.  Do not skip this step.  Use a stiff vegetable brush, some mild dish detergent and warm tap water.  When finished, pat the lemons dry in some paper towels.

Shave the lemon zest off in long strips.

IMG_2153~ Step 2.  Use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to carefully shave the yellow zest from the lemons in long, thin strips, avoiding the bitter white pith layer that lies beneath yellow zest.

Place the EVOO & zest in a shallow, 8" skillet.

IMG_2159~ Step 3.  Place the olive oil and lemon zest strips in an 8" skillet over medium heat.  Do not allow to simmer, and that includes little bubbles that form around the sides of the saucepan.

Heat to warm & carefully regulate temp for 15 minutes. 

IMG_2164 2~ Step 4.  Keep the oil on the stovetop at this warm temperature, regulating the heat up and down as necessary, for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Cool to room temperature, strain & store.

IMG_2170~ Step 5.  Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the oil into a clean bottle, jar or other type of food storage container.  Discard the lemon zest.  Store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

Don't be inclined to store the oil w/the zest in it.

IMG_2180Note:  While it's inviting to look at a piece or two of zest floating around in a bottle or jar of oil, (and it is common practice for some manufacturers of cold-pressed infused oil to allow a strand or two to remain), in the home kitchen, the oil has a longer shelf life if it is removed.  Also, once the oil has been cooled to room temperature, it is not going to take on any more flavor from the zest.

Lemon-infused EVOO -- a light, bright versatile pantry staple:

IMG_2173Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen:  Recipe yields 1 cup.

Special Equipment List: vegetable brush; paper towels; vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife; 8" skillet; fine mesh strainer

IMG_2061 2Cook's Note:  During asparagus season, May through the end of June here in the Northeast, I am never without a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil.  Asparagus is the perfect foil for lemon, salt and pepper, and, ~ Perfectly Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~ is one of favorite ways to serve this delectable vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/15/2019

~Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, and, a tad of Dijon mustard, an amazing vinaigrette is born.  It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and, in the case of this one, because the lemon flavor is infused in the oil, as opposed to a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in its light, bright flavor.  There's more:  It is indisputably the best marinade for vegetables, poultry, fish or seafood I have ever encountered. Yes indeed, the investment in a bottle of lemon-infused EVOO is a small but mighty-wise one.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

Try it on my poached asparagus, grape tomato & mozzarella salad

IMG_2107Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top.

IMG_2061Cook's Note: Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking: crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/13/2019

~ Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_2107A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and laced with subtle herbs de Provence, is the star of this salad show, so, don't stray from this flavor profile.

Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined.  Set aside and prepare salad as directed below:

IMG_2085For the asparagus salad:

12 ounces medium-thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24 spears after trimming, shallow-poached until crunch tender, about 3 minutes & shocked in cold water to halt the cooking process

6  ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half*

6  ounces small, fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half ("ciligegine" = "cherry-sized")

* Note:  In season strawberries are a fine substitution for grape or cherry tomatoes in this recipe.

IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039~Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover. Cook asparagus to crunch tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to halt the cooking process.

IMG_2090 2 IMG_2090 2 IMG_2103~ Step 2.  Lay asparagus flat on a few paper towels to absorb all excess moisture, then, slice  into 1 1/2"-2" lengths.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Slice and add the grape or cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls.  Add about half the vinaigrette.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss until ingredients are evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate about 30-60 minutes, to allow flavors time to marry, prior to serving.

This is one lemony & luscious lettuce-less side-dish salad.

IMG_2124Every succulent bite is a reason to celebrate Summer:

IMG_2129Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 4, marinated starter-course salads or side-salads.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & (glass) lid; colander; paper towels; rubber spatula

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/10/2019

~ Perfect Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~

IMG_2061Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_1940I won't lie, my recipe for ~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~ is, generally speaking, my favorite way to serve asparagus.  There's just something about the high, dry heat of the oven that elevates its flavor and texture. That said, when gently poached on the stovetop, crunch-tender or fully-cooked asparagus has its place in my food world too.   When it's blanched then shocked in cold water, crunch tender asparagus is perfect to add to salad and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.  When it's fully-cooked and fork-tender, it's marvelous drizzled with an easy-to-make blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce.  Whether you choose to oven-roast or stovetop poach this versatile veggie, it is always ready to eat in ten or less minutes.

1 skillet w/a (glass) lid + 3/4"-1" water + 2 teaspoons salt. 

IMG_2037The most important thing to know about this process is:  do not overcrowd the skillet with asparagus and do your best to add spears of realtively-even thickness to the simmering water -- common sense says that skinny spears cook faster than fat spears.  Typically, depending on the desired degree of doneness, thin asparagus bathe in the water for 1-2 minutes, average asparagus take 3-4 minutes, and the fatsos take 5-6 minutes.  Past 3, 4, or 6 minutes respectively, be forewarned that asparagus will go IMG_2073from fully-cooked and vibrant green to overcooked and dull green very quickly.   Covering the skillet with a lid during the poaching process is highly recommended, as it bathes the stalks in steam as well as water, and, you have a glass lid that fits your skillet, use it, as it allows you to keep an eye on the entire process. Prior to cooking medium or thick asparagus, for a prettier presentation, use a vegetable peeler to quickly peel the skin from the lower 2"-3" of each spear.

Skinny = 1-2 minutes.  Average = 3-4 minutes.  Fat = 5-6 minutes.

IMG_203612-16 ounces asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24-32 spears after trimming trimmed of woody stalk ends, peeled or unpeeled

4-6  cups water

2  teaspoons sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce (optional)

~ IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water.  Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover.  Cook the asparagus to desired degree of doneness:  1-2 minutes for skinny asparagus, 3-4 minutes for average asparagus, or 5-6 minutes for fat asparagus.  Remove from heat and drain water from pan and return pan of asparagus to still hot stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, and, a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10-15 grinds each).  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP drizzled w/optional hollandaise or béarnaise sauce:

IMG_2064How to Shallow-Poach Asparagus Spears Perfectly:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly poach fresh asparagus spears of any thickness to the desired degree of doneness. 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler (0ptional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & (glass) lid or deep skillet w/(glass) lid

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/07/2019

~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~

IMG_2021Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No, just say NO, walk away from hard, grated or shaved, Italian cheese, soft fresh mozzarella or creamy ricotta, and please, don't roll your eyes.  Once you savor the delicate flavors in the first forkful of crab and asparagus intermingled amongst strands of lemony pasta and shreds of salty prosciutto, you will agree -- cheese, any cheese, would be is all wrong.

From 2 to 4 servings or more, prepare no more than you plan to eat.

IMG_2015The bad news.  This is not a dish that can be made in advance, and, leftovers are definitely a compromise.  The good news.  It's so easy to make so there's no reason to care about advance preparation or leftovers.  This is a restaurant dish that I have adapted for the home kitchen.  In the restaurant kitchen, a line cook quickly sautés chards of prosciutto with sliced asparagus and whole grape tomatoes in seasoned olive oil until the prosciutto is crisping and the tomatoes are blistering.  Cooked pasta gets tossed in along with a handful of crabmeat and voila:  dinner. 

IMG_2028For 2 or 4 servings roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and tomatoes:

1/2 or 1  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12-24 spears after trimming

3 or 6  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips 

12-16 or 24-32 grape tomatoes 

3 or 6  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

fresh-ground sea salt, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds

fresh-ground black or peppercorn blend, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds 

IMG_1978For 2 or 4 servings thick spaghetti and crabmeat:

8 or 16  ounces thick spaghetti

3 or 6  tablespoons salted butter

2 or 4  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

8-12 or 16-24  ounces high-quality pasteurized crab claw meat, the best available

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  Wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each -- I do half because prosciutto is salty and too much can be overwhelming, but it's your choice.  Add the grape tomatoes to the sides of pan (separate from the asparagus).  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven or toaster oven for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be soft and blistered. Remove from oven and set baking pan aside to cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.

IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 ~Step 3.  To cook the pasta, in a 4- or 8-quart stockpot bring 3 or 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat, then add 1 or 2 tablespoons sea salt to the boiling water.  Add the thick spaghetti and cook until al dente, 11-13 minutes.  Drain spaghetti into a colander.  Do not rinse.  Return steaming-hot pasta to still warm stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Using two spoons or two forks, toss as you would a salad until pasta is evenly coated in melted butter.  Add the crab claw meat to the top and cover the pot -- do not toss at this time.

IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960~Step 4.  Transfer the warm-to-the-touch asparagus to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, remove the tender asparagus tips and set aside to use as garnish.  Holding the knife at an angle and using a light touch, gently slice, to produce very-thin pieces of asparagus and chards of prosciutto.  Transfer tomatoes to board and slice into halves or quarters.

IMG_2001~Step 5.  Add the thinly-sliced asparagus spears, chards of roasted prosciutto and grape tomato pieces to the crab and spaghetti.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until just combined. Portion into warm serving bowls and serve topped with a sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt and garnished with a few tender asparagus tips.

Gently toss, portion into bowls, garnish, serve & eat: 

IMG_2016Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto:  Recipe yields 2-4 rich and hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; pastry brush; cutting board; serrated bread knife; wide-bottomed 4- or 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/05/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~

IMG_1940When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy, meaning, my family only ate it in the Spring, mostly for holidays and special occasions, or, when we reserved a table at a fancy restaurant --  restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. That said, even in the restaurants back in the 1960's and '70's, it was always of the pencil-thin type, and, it was served either lightly steamed or briefly blanched.  Thinking back, I suppose it was because these methods enhanced its color, which made for a prettier presentation.  Indeed it tasted wonderful, but, years later, circa the 1980's, when roasting vegetables and vegetable medleys became trendy, I came to realize how roasting it elevated its flavor and texture.

For even roasting choose asparagus of even thickness.

Before preparing this super-simple side-dish, please note that when it comes to roasting asparagus, thick spears work the best (thin ones, not so much).  Why?  Read on.  Thin spears can and will dry out too quickly in the required high, 425º oven heat, which can and will render them tough and stringy.  It matters not how many asparagus spears you roast, as long as they're even-sized and lined up, side-by side, in a single layer on a baking pan.  All they require is a light coating of lemon-infused olive oil (the flavor explosion from it is delightful), some freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper or a peppercorn blend, and, 9-10 minutes of time to roast.  Tick, tock.

IMG_19121/2  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12 spears after trimming

3  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips (optional)

12-24 grape tomatoes (optional)

3-4  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt, 20-25 grinds

freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, 20-25 grinds 

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1.  Line an appropriately-sized baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  If inclined, wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each.  If you like grape tomatoes add them to the sides of pan too.  Neither prosciutto or tomatoes affect the recipe or roasting time -- use them or don't, your choice.  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the optional tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven (or toaster oven for a small batch like I am making today) for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be blistered. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Gently plate & serve immediately...

IMG_1938... w/roasted or grilled poultry, fish, seafood &/or pasta. 

IMG_1953Amazingly-Simple & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized baking pan; aluminum foil, pastry brush

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/03/2019

~Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus~

IMG_1895In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  It's one of my favorite green vegetables, but, interestingly, I prefer to purchase it rather than grow it.  Why?  Frankly, when we did grow our own, on days when I needed it, I couldn't rely on enough being ready for harvest and vice versa.  Asparagus spears, which pup up out of the ground like little soldiers, grow on their own time, not mine.  Early in the season, it can take a spear up to three days to mature.  Toward the end of the season, it can mature in one day.  Asparagus farmers must maintain every row of asparagus every day.

#1)  Choose:  Fresh always matters more than thickness.

IMG_1879Asparagus begins losing its naturally sweet flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color and unblemished.  Don't buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp. The tender tips should be compact and deep-green and slightly purple-ish and not ruffled, frayed or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, choose asparagus of even thickness.  Thin asparagus is the most tender and only needs to be quickly blanched.  Medium-thickness is perfect for a brief simmer or sauté, and, thick asparagus is great roasted or grilled.

#2)  Prep: Rinse & drain, &, snap or trim. 

IMG_4343Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Since it's grown in sandy soil, give the spears a swish in a bowl of cold tap water to release any debris, then, lay them, in a single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to drain thoroughly, 5-10 minutes.  Because every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat, trimming comes next. When gently bent, the stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender.  Once you get a feel for where the stalks du jour are snapping, time can be saved by trimming several at a time with a chef's knife.

#3)  Store:  In a glass of water in the refrigerator.  

IMG_4372Once trimmed, don't put asparagus in the vegetable bin with the riffraff. Gather it up in a bunch, stand it upright in a glass containing half an inch of cold water and store it, uncovered, on a shelf in the refrigerator.  As for those woody ends, they can be stored in a food storage bag in the vegetable bin or frozen and used to make stock or soup.  Remove asparagus from refrigerator just prior to cooking. While many restaurant chefs insist upon using a vegetable peeler to shave two-three inches of skin from the bottom of each stock prior to cooking (for a prettier presentation), most home cooks do not bother -- me included. 

IMG_1878"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)