Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Off Sides

Round two and the bell strikes. Often my favorite parts of a meal are the side dishes. I have been known to order a la carte at several places, creating my own feast out of appetizers and vegetable specials. For this ‘course’ of the Valentine’s Day dinner, you could easily fill up and forget a main dish—but spare some room and enjoy leftovers at another time. Blanched asparagus chill nicely and can be served with lemon and olive oil picnic style with your Valentine; and the risotto is one of the few foods that continue to heat up nicely as the week goes on and you haven’t had time to leave the house yet.

Second Course: Side Dish

Asparagus with Poached Eggs

Such a simple combination, yet such a divine result. This was an appetizer special on the menu at a local Italian restaurant, Divino’s, of which I coveted from across the table. Just short of checking with the chef, I found a recipe that should help to accompany the memory. The tip to this recipe is getting the freshest organic eggs and the very best asparagus you can find. Don’t even bother out of season.

1 bunch asparagus (whichever color you fancy, I always use green)
4 eggs (preferably organic)
1 tbsp butter
Panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

HEAT the butter in a frying pan, when hot add the breadcrumbs. Stir and shake frying pan regularly until crumbs are golden brown. Remove from frying pan and drain on kitchen paper.

TRIM off the woody ends of the asparagus and BLANCH them. (BOIL for 4 – 6 minutes and then transfer to ice water to stop the cooking). You don’t want to overcook them or they will become stringy, reserve the crunch!

MEANWHILE bring water to boil with a teaspoon of vinegar. When the water is at a gentle boil, swirl the water with your spoon to create a whirlpool. Crack your egg into a cup or small bowl, and while the water is still spinning gently slip the egg into the center (this helps it form a round shape).

NOTE: 2 ½ minutes produces soft yolks. Remove egg with a slotted spoon and rest the slotted spoon on a clean tea towel to absorb the moisture. Remove debris in the pan before poaching more eggs. Only do one egg at a time.

PLACE half the asparagus on each plate, top with egg, salt and pepper and sprinkle over breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

Mushroom Risotto with Green Beans

I know I said I would try to have the recipes come out neatly to produce enough for two, but there is simply no way to make a small batch of risotto, and why would you want to? The Italians are known for being large and loud—so why try to mess with what they do best? Go ahead, try to half the recipe, see how that works out for you.

1pkg dried mushrooms
1 cup hot vegetable stock
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/4 tbsp salt
1/4 tbsp pepper
1 cup Arborio rice or short grain Italian rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 cup green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

SOAK mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove, chop, and set aside.

STRAIN soaking liquid into measuring cup and add stock and enough water to make 3 cups liquid. Set aside.

MELT 1 tbsp of the butter over medium heat; FRY mushrooms, onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

ADD rice, stirring to coat grains. ADD wine; stirring constantly, until no liquid remains. Add ½ cup of the liquid stock and stir until completely absorbed, about 10 minutes.

ADD green beans. Add remaining stock mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until completely absorbed and rice is creamy and tender, another 10 minutes.

STIR in cheese, parsley and remaining butter.

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