Asparagus is a sure sign of Spring! My family has gotten their fair share of those beautiful little green spears this spring. Now that one of my daughters has discovered she really likes asparagus, I have been serving it with dinner at least once per week. We usually salt and pepper it and toss it on the grill with some fresh fish or marinated chicken. I usually add a squeeze of lemon at the end for a little brightness (perhaps you have noticed by now that I am extremely fond of lemons!). The weeknights have been busy recently with the end of school and swim team practices, swim meets etc. so I didn’t get around to using my bunch of asparagus last week for dinner. I certainly didn’t want it to go to waste so I created this dish for my lunch one day. I grabbed my jar of preserved lemons that I scored at the Food Swap I attended last month and they gave the dish a great savory but bright lemony kick. Preserved Lemons are traditionally found in Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes. They are essentially lemons preserved in salt to keep longer. Check out this article on NPR, Preserved Lemons: Older, Wiser and Full of Flavor to learn more. I’m learning how to use them and thus far, have used them in salad dressing, hummus and a marinade (Chicken Tagine is the classic use for preserved lemons and is on my radar for the future). If you don’t have or don’t want to purchase preserved lemons, lemon zest would be a fine substitute. To increase the springiness of the salad add fresh peas and/or arugula. It was delicious warm and would be a great side dish to some grilled chicken or as a bed under a piece of grilled or sauteed salmon. Refrigerate the leftovers and you’ve got a tasty pasta salad for lunch the next day…always add a fresh squeeze of lemon before serving.
Orzo with Asparagus and Preserved Lemons (Serves 6-8)
1 16 oz pkg whole wheat orzo
2 Tbsp butter
1 bunch asparagus
2 preserved lemons, chopped (or zest of 1-2 lemons)
juice of one lemon (and zest if not using preserved lemons)
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper (you should not need salt because the preserved lemons add a savory component)
Fresh chopped basil and/or parsley (optional)
In sauce pan, melt butter. Add orzo and toast until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add water and a pinch of salt and cook orzo for approximately 10 minutes or according to package directions; strain orzo when finished and place in large bowl. While orzo is cooking, trim ends off of asparagus (usually about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way up the stalk). In a saute pan, bring water to a boil and add asparagus; cook 3-5 minutes depending on thickness. Remove asparagus and rinse with cold water. Chop asparagus in 1 inch pieces and add to orzo. Toss orzo and asparagus with olive oil and lemon juice (start with half and add to taste). Add preserved lemon or lemon zest and fresh ground pepper. Top with parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. Serve warm or cold.