Thin and Green: Roasted Asparagus and Green Beans with Red Pepper Vinaigrette

For the past two weeks the weather has been picture-perfect here in Denver. With the exception of today- rain and snow showers are predicted- the temperatures have been in the mid-70s and low-80s. Flowering trees are blooming and we have been spending a ton of time outside. It seems like everyone on my block has been barbecuing, and I'm having a serious hankering for a burger. And steak too. Surprised? You shouldn't be! I've been experimenting with tofu "burgers" and playing around with marinades for grilled tofu steak: chili rub, orange glaze, straight-up spicy barbecue, to name a few. I've also been making some complimentary sides dishes-- ones that are easy to make and take under 15 minutes. I realized long ago that not every post, nor every dish, has to be complicated or fussy. Sometimes a nice, straight-forward vegetable dish is all you need. Today I have two.
The first is for Roasted Asparagus with Lemony Breadcrumbs, which was published in the most recent issue of Martha Stewart Living. I like to use pencil-thin asparagus for this one. Yes, it is more expensive than the wider asparagus, but in this particular dish I think it makes a difference. I tend to use the wider variety when I make asparagus soup. Since there are so few ingredients in this asparagus dish, buy the best quality produce you can find.
The second recipe is for Green Beans with Red Pepper Vinaigrette. My friend Jo Ellen brought this side dish over for a recent playdate/dinner. I made macaroni and cheese and the green beans were the perfect compliment to the pasta entree. Jo got the recipe from her sister-in-law Sara, who came up with it while trying to recreate the flavors she tasted in a similar bean dish. I like to use haricot vert, but traditional string beans will certainly do the trick.
This green bean recipe is one of my new favorites. Flavorful and simple. And now that I think about it, I bet the red pepper vinaigrette would make a really nice drizzle for asparagus. Hey, wait a minute. Is there some sort of recipe development happening here?! I'll try it and let you know how it turns out...

Roasted Asparagus with Lemony Breadcrumbs
Courtesy of Martha Stewart
Serves 6 (You can easily halve the recipe)
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup panko- Japanese breadcrumbs (I used high-quality plain breadcrumbs)
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
Garnish: 1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle with oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, 18 to 20 minutes, then transfer to a platter.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook, stirring frequently, until deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice and zest. Season with salt. Top asparagus with breadcrumbs, and garnish with lemon. 
Click the link for another asparagus recipe: Linguine with Asparagus, Egg and Hollandaise. Yes, it's delicious! 
* * *

Green Beans with Red Pepper Vinaigrette 
(Courtesy of Sara Stevens, by way of her sister-in-law Jo Ellen)
2 pounds of green beans, boiled for 5 minutes in salty water, then dropped in an icy bath. 

1-2 cloves of garlic (I go with 1)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 - 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
Mix the vinaigrette ingredients in a small food processor so that the garlic is pulverized. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add roasted red peppers from a jar-  1/2 to most of the jar. Whir that up a bit. It doesn't need to be a smooth puree, get the dressing to the consistency of your liking. Adjust seasoning (and keep in mind that the dressing has to stretch over all those a little bit more salt would work.)
Pour the dressing over the beans. Let it sit in the fridge for a while, overnight is good. 

Celebrating with Shades of Green

Spring has sprung! There's no doubt about it. I've worn short sleeve three times in the last week, and I do mean outside. It's going to be 70 degrees...for 5 days straight! Buds are starting to form on the tree branches and perennial plants are pushing through the dirt. Little blades of green grass are popping up and we just turned the clocks ahead. I really love this time of year. The Germans have a word for it. They call it Frühlingsschnipsel, or snippets of spring.
This means that St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner. And I'm wondering how to celebrate the man who chased all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea.
I was toying with the idea of making Cabbage and Mushroom Galette with Horseradish Sauce. But then I saw how time consuming it was and how many steps were required for the dough and filling. I decided to skip it (for now). I've learned to keep it simple in the kitchen these days, as there's a toddler and infant to watch over. One day I'll make some more-involved dishes (oh Eleven Madison Park cookbook, I've got my eyes on you) but for now I'm keeping it easy.
When I think of Ireland the first three words that come to mind are: song, drink (Irish coffee and Whiskey) and green. Sure, there are rolling hills and majestic cliffs, amazing literature (Angela's Ashes is one of the few books I managed to read cover-to-cover last year), great films, and ancient castles...but I'm going to take my cooking cues from the first words that came to mind and work a menu around things that are green and things that you drink...while listening to some classic U2 albums.
Lucky for me I spied two recipes in my most recent Martha Stewart publication that I wanted to make. One is for a Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Kale (it's green!) and the other is for Irish Coffee Blondies. Yum!
Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Greens (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Sea salt (season the soup well)
1 medium head cauliflower (about 3 pounds), florets and stems cut into 1-inch pieces (8 to 9 cups)
2 1/2 cups water

2 cups vegetable stock
(The original recipe used 4 1/2 cups filtered water. I used a combination of water and stock.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
5-6 large kale leaves, tough ends removed, and leaves roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat; cook onion, covered, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes more. Add cauliflower, and pour in filtered water until it reaches just below the top of the cauliflower.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons dill. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until cauliflower is just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in greens, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Let sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons dill. Puree soup in batches in a blender until very smooth, adding more water (about 1/2 cup) if it's too thick. Return to pot, and reheat. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with dill, black pepper, a drizzle of oil, and pinch of sea salt.

On to another green matter: the Mordecai Children's Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens reopened this past week, ending their winter closure. The children's section has a wonderful rooftop alpine garden, among other things. I took the boys last week and we had a blast. Otis loved climbing the rocks near the Springmelt Stream. Theo had fun in the sandpit. Something tells me these two boys are going to be real nature-enthusiasts! (And yes, those are the Rocky Mountains in the background!)
A few hours after our trip to the Botanic Gardens all hell broke loose. I put Theo down for his nap and when he woke up a short while later he was covered in a deep red rash, his eyes were practically shut and his face was swollen. 
Now, I pride myself on being a down-to-earth mother who doesn't usually panic...but this was too much. I knew it wasn't a mite or something contagious because I was fine, as was Otis. Theo had been a bit red in the face when we went back to New York for Yana's wedding two weeks ago. He was bumpy and there was a slight rash, but then it faded completely. I wasn't sure what was going on, but it was time to go to the ER. I thought, perhaps, he was going into anaphylactic shock. I was starting to panic.
Well long story short we went to a pediatric dermatologist at the Colorado Children's Hospital (it's No. 5 in the country for a reason) the next day. After a diagnosis (eczema that became unbearable, probably due to a virus that was long gone) and some topical steroids, everything is great and back to normal. Theo is comfortable. The rash and discomfort are gone...completely. He's also sleeping really well, so that's good for him...and great for me! 
I seemingly had a ridiculous amount of energy last week because the day after our stint in the ER and Children's Hospital, we were off to Golden to visit the Colorado Railroad Museum. Otis was a really, really big fan of the trains (he's kind of obsessed). And  Theo was happy not to be itchy. 

After we got back from the train museum I made this one-pot soup. It was so easy and so delicious. Click here for the Caramelized Leek and Minted Yogurt Soup recipe from the Moro Cookbook
Next week I'm delving into Persian cooking. Until then, have a great week/end. 

Tabbouleh with Watermelon

I always thought of tabbouleh, also spelled tabouli, as a Palestinian meze.  You can find it on the streets of Jerusalem and Ramallah (as well as in Israel in both Israeli and Palestinian restaurants), but in fact tabbouleh's origins are in Lebanon and Syria (at least according to the Oxford Food & Nutrition Dictionary). The differences between the ubiquitous bulgur wheat salad in Lebanon and Syria is the proportions (or omissions) of several ingredients. But generally speaking, this salad contains parsley (the Lebanese use more), onion, mint, lemon, oil, and spices. Tomato is also traditionally used. The Turks have a similar dish called kisir and it contains tomato and pepper paste.  
This tabbouleh recipe in Martha Stewart Living caught my eye.  Here, "watermelon replaces the traditional tomato in this Middle Eastern salad, giving it bursts of sweetness. Goat cheese, another new add-in, provides creamy contrast." 
It's not difficult to make-- in fact it's very easy-- and it's a great summer side dish.  I would add a spritz of fresh lemon juice before serving, but that's pretty much it.  It's simple and not too ambitious.  Give this twist on tabbouleh a try! 
Tabbouleh with Watermelon (Courtesy of Martha Stewart Living)
Serves 4
1 1/4 cups water
Coarse salt
3/4 cup bulgur wheat
8 ounces watermelon (about 1/2 small), peeled and coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
Bring water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in bulgur, and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and let stand, uncovered, until cooled, 15 to 30 minutes.
Transfer bulgur to a bowl, and toss with watermelon, parsley, scallions, oil, lemon zest and juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently fold in goat cheese.

Martha's Linguine with Asparagus and Egg

For those of you who regularly read Sparrows & Spatulas you might recall that four of us recently started a 'Dinner Club.'  The ball was in my court for the first meal and I prepared:
Starter soup:
Heidi Swanson's Cauliflower Soup with Mustard Croutons
Side dish:
Heidi Swanson's Wild Rice Casserole
Main dish:
Spanakopita with Tzatziki Sauce
Our guests brought an Almond Cake from Sweet Melissa in Cobble Hill. Yum. 
The second installation of the 'Dinner Club' was last weekend and my best friend and his husband (my friend too) were in charge of the menu. They really out did themselves and the meal was delicious!
We settled on a Saturday dinner-- early bird, 5:30 p.m. That's pretty much how I roll these days unless I am entertaining at my place. Otis really has to be in his crib by 9. And, not wanting to rush dinner conversation and eating, we all decided it was better to get an early start.
While my son was distracted by chasing an adorable elderly cat named Claudia (she's fine being publicly identified), we sat down to a lovely decorated table with great chairs (I'm having home decor envy in case you can't tell). We dined on linguine pasta, blanched asparagus and a fried egg. Brian served the dish with a side of absolutely amazing hollandaise sauce. Few things go better with asparagus than hollandaise! And you really can't go wrong when you pair pasta with a runny egg. Brian also prepared a citrus-herbed garbanzo bean side dish which had really great flavor. For dessert I brought the Lemon Yogurt Cake with Lemon Glaze (blogged about 

Wondering what we did to quench our thirst? Homemade (and I believe an original recipe) of Fresh Berry Limeade. It was a great way to spend the evening.

Here are a few notes and adaptations on this recipe:
1. The market I went to didn't have thin or "pencil" asparagus so I bought regular (thick) asparagus. A few days later I saw the kind I was looking for...I should have waited. I think that the high quality, uber thin, seasonal asparagus is the way to go with this recipe.
2. You can use dry pasta but I think fresh pasta is a better choice. It cooks quickly and tastes better.
3. Salt and pepper are important seasonings in this dish. Actually, they are the only seasonings, so be generous with your pinches.
4. Brian fried an egg, sunny-side up, in butter instead of poaching it. I think both work. Be sure to keep the yolk runny.
5. A side of hollandaise sauce really compliments the dish. The original recipe didn't have it. I would definitely add it. I typed up a simple recipe for hollandaise from "The Joy of Cooking."
I'm looking forward to our third meal together. I've been flipping through back copies of Saveur Magazine in search of the perfect recipes. Feel free to submit suggestions in the comments section :)
Until then, Bon Appetit!

Martha's Linguine with Asparagus and Egg (Courtesy of Martha Stewart, Brian's adaptations are listed above.)
  • Ingredients
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 3/4 pound linguine or fettuccine (I like fresh pasta for this recipe and I would go with linguine.  Fettuccine is too thick.) 
  • 1 large bunch thin asparagus (1 pound), ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1/2 ounce), plus more for serving (optional)
  • 4 large eggs


  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions, adding the asparagus in the last minute of cooking. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid; drain pasta and asparagus and return to pot along with butter and Parmesan. Toss until butter is melted, adding enough pasta water to create a thin sauce that coats pasta.
  2. While pasta is cooking, in a large straight-sided skillet, heat 2 inches water over medium until a few bubbles rise to the top. Crack each egg into a small bowl and gently pour into skillet. Cook until whites are set and yolks are runny, 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer eggs to a parchment-lined baking sheet.  (See adaptation above.)
  3. To serve, divide pasta among four bowls, top each serving with an egg, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan if desired.
    Hollandaise Sauce (Courtesy of The Joy of Cooking)
    Yields 1 cup
    Place in the top of a double boiler or in a large stainless-steel bowl set up as a double boiler:
    3 large egg yolks
    1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
    Off the heat, whisk the egg mixture until it becomes light and frothy. Place the top of the double boiler or the bowl over- not in- barely simmering water and continue to whisk until the eggs are thickened, 2-4 minutes, being careful not to let the eggs get too hot (or they will scramble). Remove the pan or bowl from over the water and whisk to slightly cool mixture.
    Whisking constantly, very slowly add 1/2 cup warm (not hot) clarified butter, 1069
    Whisk in:
    1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
    Salt and ground white pepper to taste
    If the sauce is too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water. Serve immediately or keep the sauce warm for up to 30 minutes by placing bowl in warm water.

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese

This is the best macaroni and cheese I've ever made.  I love it.  I make it once a month or so.  It's absolutely perfect for a chilly, late-autumn night and you know those are coming...
Thanks Martha!

Martha's Macaroni and Cheese (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (plus)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese (I like to use a Dubliner Irish)
1 cups (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1/2 cups (about 2 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3/4 to 1 cup of Panko or bread crumbs (enough to cover top layer)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
In a high-sided skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cheddar cheese, and  Gruyère (or Pecorino Romano)*; set the cheese sauce aside. 
[*Save some of the hard cheese (let's say 1/2 cup) for the top layer.  Sprinkle it on right before you add the panko or bread crumbs.]
Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.  Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes (time may vary depending on your oven heat). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Serves 6 (double recipe for 12)