Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry

Because I have the reading comprehension of a first grader and occipital lobes as lazy as an 80 year old’s, (ummm yes, I did just make a neurology reference, deal with it.) I vastly prefer cookbooks with pictures in them.

And really, how can you blame me? How am I supposed to properly cook something if I have no clue what the final product is supposed to look like? How do I know if my sauce is the correct color if there’s no standard of comparison? How do I know a recipe is appetizing if there isn’t a mouth watering portrait to drool over? Really, my method saves time by relying on gut instinct (tee hee hee). If a recipe looks good in pictures, I’ll take the time to read it…who has time to read cookbooks as if they were novels? Not this girl!

Lucky for me, cookbooks with pictures are usually the ones found in the bargain aisles of major booksellers, next to the coffee table kama sutras and anthologies of Scottish lighthouses. For some reason, these cookbooks also seem to not be sure as to whether to use the metric or imperial system of measurement and will switch freely between the two.

Sometimes said cookbooks will reference a commonly found American ingredient by its British name. This can be embarassing when you’re running around the produce aisle at Stop and Shop asking people to help you locate a “capiscum” only to find out later that it’s the British name for a red pepper.

But since part of my unspoken New Year’s Resolution was to try cooking things I wouldn’t normally, these cookbooks have lately been my trusted friends.

For example, up until this week, if I were asked to write the dictionary definition for “stir-fry,” my entry would look something like this:

Stir-fry v. (Cookery) To locate every spare vegetable or article of protein in one’s fridge, cut into small bite like pieces, and heat together in a wok as one conglomeration of vegetables and sauce. To serve over rice and lament the fact that you once again have to go shopping for vegetables.
n. A last resort meal when nothing more interesting strikes your fancy.

But apparently not everyone agrees that stir-frys require the use of every vegetable in your possession nor have to be as dull a meal as microwaved canned soup. No siree, in fact, my $7.98 cookbook suggests a multitude of single-vegetable stir-frys. I know, I know…that’s borderline crazy-talk.

I'm not lying, it really was $7.98

In an effort to be adventurous, I decided to try my hand at one: an asparagus and mustard stir-fry. Extremely simple, but more flavorful than any stir-fry I’ve gotten my grubby little paws on over the last year. Not only was this a deeply satisfying served over rice as its own meal, but I bet it would be one killer side-dish when you’re feeling just plain tired of regular ol’ roasted asparagus.

I’m not going to lie, the onion really makes this dish, so feel free to add more; the slices take on a very sweet, tangy taste during cooking that mixes really well with the spiciness of the mustard. Toss in some chicken or tofu if you want to make it a whole meal and hit all the bases. Enjoy!

Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry (from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 15 oz. asparagus (who knows that this means, just go with one whole bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used peanut!)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard (those little yellow mustard seed balls)
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used about two)
  • 1/2 cup cream (I used milk and it turned out fine. I’m sure coconut milk would work great too)
  1. Break the woody ends off the asparagus by holding both ends of the spear and bending gently until it snaps at its natural breaking point. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.
  2. Heat the wok or pan until very hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the side. Stir-fry the onion for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the crushed garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus to the wok and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until tender, being careful not to overcook the asparagus.
  3. Remove the asparagus from the wok, set it aside and keep it warm. Combine the mustard, honey, and cream. Add to the wok and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Return the asparagus to the wok and toss it through the cream mixture. Heat until the sauce thickens to slightly thinner than a glaze, but isn’t soupy. Serve immediately.

Mushroom Risotto

A million years ago, I was a senior in high school gettin’ ready for my big adventure off to college. That was back in the olden days when you needed a college e-mail address to have a Facebook. Yep, a long, long time ago…

So while I was excited about a lot of the new things that would be coming my way: a fancy new class schedule, new stuffs for my brand new room… I was really excited about one thing in particular… getting my college e-mail address.

When I did, you can bet yo’ butt I went straight to Facebook and made myself a profile. As soon as I did, I got all these friend requests from other freshman who would be going to college with me… I didn’t know any of them, and I was obviously too super cool to be associated with these potential lame-Os, so I denied all of them… well… most of them. I accepted one, her name was Amanda… I accepted her because I liked her photo of bubbles:

Little did I know, I was also Amanda’s only Facebook friend from our new college. She friended me because she liked this photo of me eating chilli cheese fries:

So neither one of us thought much about it, until a few weeks later when we got our new roommate assignments… yep, in a creepy twist of fate, out of 4,000 new freshman, Amanda and I were matched together.

That, my friends, is a match made in heaven.

And oh what a match it was! Amanda and I are now the very bestest of friends who share many of the same passions, like eating cold leftovers straight out of the fridge, wearing fuzzy socks, and sleeping with the air conditioning on in Winter.

Why am I telling you all this? Because this week Amanda came to visit me!

We did lotsa fun things together!

We put on music in the mornings and danced around with mimosas. We went sailing. We crashed a 5K so that we could eat some free burritos. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and saw this super cool Chihuly exhibition:

And we cooked!

Amanda and I share a deep love for all foods warm, mushy, gooey, buttery and cheesy… the perfect recipe for such a pair?

Uh, risotto of course!

This recipe comes from my hero, Mark Bittman. Out of his book “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” For those of you who remember, I briefly tried to blog about cooking my way through said book, but the publishing company didn’t want me reprinting all the recipes. An occasional recipe, however? That’s ok by them, so it’s ok by me too!

Amanda and I made a double batch of this and ate it for lunch, dinner, AND breakfast. We think you should do that same, too.

Mushroom Risotto (From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 ½ cups hot water
  • 3-5 cups vegetable stock, or water
  • 2 T butter and/or olive oil
  • 2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 ½ cups fresh cremini or porcini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • Salt & pepper
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • A big handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in the hot water. Warm the stock over medium heat and leave the heat on.
  2. When the mushrooms soften, place the butter/oil in a large saucepan and turn the heat to medium. When it’s hot, add the shallots or onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, for another 5-7 minutes. Drain the dried mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze them dry, chop, and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes; do not let the mushrooms brown.
  3. Add the rice and stir until it is coated with butter/oil. Add a little salt & pepper, then the wine or vermouth. Stir and let the liquid bubble away.
  4. Strain the mushroom-soaking liquid and add it to the rice; stir and let the liquid bubble away. Begin to add the stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring after each addition and every minute or so. When the stock is just about evaporated, add more. The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry. Keep the heat medium to medium-high, and stir frequently (constant stirring is not necessary).
  5. Begin tasting the rice 20 minutes after you add it to the pan; you want it to be tender but with still a tiny bit of crunch. It could take as long as 30 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, add the parmesan and remove from the heat. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary, and serve immediately.

Pasta With Broccoli Sauce

Up until a month ago when I put on my grown up pants and got a fo’ realz salaried job, I worked part-time at a Boston gift shop that sold books and various patriotic fare to the tourist masses.

Some of the more popular books were cookbooks based on Boston’s most famous restaurants and quintessential cusines: The Union Oyster House Cookbook, Legal Seafoods Cookbook, How to Host a Clambake, etc.

I spent a lot of time at said gift shop drooling over one, The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane (I’m not totally 100% up on my Italian these days, but I’m 99% sure her last name translates to “good bread.” Amazing).

For those not in the know, the North End is Boston’s “Little Italy” (but don’t call it “Little Italy” if you visit… big tourist no-no) and it feels like a little corner of the city that was caught in time. It quite honestly feels like a neighborhood that was grabbed from a little Tuscan city and plopped down in the middle of Boston. Needless to say, the food is a-mazing.

The day I left, I decided to use my 40% discount to purchase the book to add to my ever-growing cookbook collection. Sure, half the book is unusable to me because I don’t eat meat, but the other half of the recipes sound like they’re straight out of my Nonna’s kitchen, and since my Nonna will probably take those recipes to the grave with her, I figured it was worth the investment.

On the subway ride home, I skimmed through some of the recipes and was immediately struck by one recipe in particular: Pasta With Broccoli Sauce. I know, I know, it doesn’t sound very climactic, but trust me, this is just the recipe I’ve been needing…

I’ve been cooking a lot for myself lately because le boyfriend just got a job with mostly night hours. One person meals are tough, and I often don’t feel the motivation to cook more extravagantly than pasta with pre-made tomato sauce (for shame!).

The poor vegetables in my fridge have been perpetually ignored for the past two weeks, leaving me with approximately a pound and a half of wilting broccoli, which is incidentally the key ingredient in Pasta with Broccoli Sauce.

I love broccoli… which is a good thing because growing up, we ate it at EVERY meal, no exaggeration. My mom was a broccoliaholic and would brag to the neighbors about how she didn’t believe in force-feeding kids milk, just broccoli, because (as she claims) it has more calcium, more iron and is basically god’s gift to childhood nutrition.

I’m 5’11″. I chalk that up to genetics. My mom chalks it up to broccoli.

Anyways, back in the day, when my mom was my age living in Boston, she supposedly ate pasta with broccoli sauce EVERY night. I guess after awhile she got so sick of it that she refused to ever make me her once favorite recipe, but seeing it right there in my new cookbook, I had to try it.

It’s painstakingly easy, but I wish the cookbook was a little clearer on directions. You’ll see in a minute when I post it below, but I was a little confused as to whether I was supposed to let the sauce keep cooking while the pasta was boiling or whether I was supposed to only cook it for a few minutes and let it sit. Each way yields vastly different results — the former an actual chunky sauce made of broccoli, the latter an oil sauce with a crunchy broccoli garnish. I chose to cook it the long way and make the broccoli soft and saucy. I think it was a good choice, but I would recommend more spice and more cheese than the recipe calls for:

Pasta with Broccoli Sauce (as adapted from the North End Italian Cookbook)

  • 1 bunch of broccoli (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 1/2 a cup of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes (I would increase this to a tablespoon or more)
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1/2 pound pasta (she recommends ziti, gnocchi or small shells. I used spaghetti because it was all I had)
  • 1/3 of a cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cut off and discard about 1/2 inch of the end of the broccoli stem. Cut the broccoli into flowerets. Trim the tough leaves, peel the stems and cut them into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Set all the pieces aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or medium-sized saucepan. Add the garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper. Saute slowly on low heat until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the pan from the burner and gently pour in the 3 cups of warm water to start the sauce. Let the water-and-oil sauce oil briskly for a minute, then add the cut broccoli. Cook on medium heat to a soft boiling stage. Add more salt, pepper, and red pepper to taste.
  3. Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving some of the water before draining. (This can be added to sauce if more broth is desired.)
  4. Put the drained pasta in a large skillet and pour the cooked broccoli sauce on top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Or to make it peasant-style (Ma’s way), add the cooked pasta to the pan of broccoli, toss a couple of times until well mixed, then serve. Sprinkle each serving with more Parmesan or Romano cheese.
It’s supposed to serve six, but when was the last time you saw a 1/2 pound of pasta feed 6 hungry mouths? It’s also delicious cold, as breakfast this morning proved to me :)
Sadly, I neglected to take any photos until I was already halfway though my meal. Here’s a glimpse anyway, just so you get the idea:

Delicious! Just be sure to not skimp on the cheeeese!