QUINOA ORZO WITH ASPARAGUS + PRESERVED LEMON DRESSING



Purchasing my first bundle of asparagus each year marks a tectonic shift in our kitchen. I feel ready to let go of heartier soups and starchy roots as I start to dream of the vibrant greens that only early spring can bring. Peas, wild nettles, bright salads, freshness...

Today I wanted to share a super easy dish that lets asparagus bask in its natural glory. Speaking of natural glory... have you tried storing your asparagus in water? It's a great way to keep the spears firm and fresh. I like the notion of treating asparagus like any other spring bloom... maybe I'm just a produce nerd, but I'd be quite happy to get a bouquet of asparagus in lieu of flowers.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1.5 cups uncooked quinoa orzo* (any orzo will do here, or you could substitute a few cups of cooked wild rice for this recipe)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 large or 2 small preserved lemons (if you don't have access to preserved lemons - I think using additional fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon zest would make a nice substitution). For details on making your own preserved lemons, here's a recipe for you.
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice + more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan + shaved Parm for serving
  • freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
  • for serving: arugula or chopped parsley; another squirt of fresh lemon juice; shaved Parm or crumbled goat cheese
*A local company named Edison Grainery has been doing all sort of interesting things with grains, specifically organic quinoa. We're addicted to their quinoa crispies and I really like their quinoa orzo.




Fill and large stock pot with tap water and salt very generously. Set pot over high heat and bring water to a boil.

In a large mixing bowl, set up an ice bath for the asparagus.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, blanch asparagus slices until vibrant green and just tender, depending on the thickness of your stalks, this could take 1-3 minutes. Don't pour out the cooking water, simply scoop out tender asparagus with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge the veg into an ice bath. Keep your salty cooking water on the stove and use it for your orzo.

Cook orzo until it reaches your desired texture. (For those of you using the Edison quinoa orzo, I've found that the cooking time is much longer than that suggested on the package.)

While the orzo is cooking, go ahead and make your dressing. A note on preserved lemons: when using preserved lemons, you want to discard the flesh and use only the peel. Rinse the pieces of preserved lemon peel and place them in a blender or food processor. Add olive oil, lemon juice, grated Parm, plenty of ground black pepper and salt to taste. Blitz all ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add a little more lemon juice and/or salt as desired.

When the orzo has finished cooking, drain and transfer it to a serving dish. Pull asparagus from the ice bath, pat dry and add to the orzo. Generously dress the dish, adding additional salt or lemon juice to your liking.

Serve warm or room temp with ample freshly ground black pepper, shaved Parm or creamy goat cheese, scattered arugula leaves or chopped herbs. Although not necessary, I like to give the dish one last squeeze of fresh lemon juice just to bring out the springy brightness.

Enjoy!

serves 4-6

BTW, did you guys read the new piece by Mark Bittman about cooking and eating in Berkeley? I'm happy to see Mark so enjoying California produce and our beloved Monterey Market, but I have to say... I'm scared that the already-insane parking lot situation is about to get much much worse!

52 comments:

  1. Looks so delicious and simple... and springy! Will have to try this one soon. :)

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    1. Thanks Dulcie! Happy spring to you. xoxo

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  2. Such a delicious, simple meal! I love this idea!

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  3. This looks so scrumptious. And it seems "simple" is a recurring word, but I concur! In the best sense of the word—beautiful simplicity! Haven't seen quinoa orzo, but I'm intrigued. I'll have to do some investigating to see if it's available in Sweden. On a final note, I keep my asparagus in water too! I rarely use a whole bunch at the same time, and love opening my fridge and seeing my vase (usually a reused plastic raisin container) of asparagus cheerily standing there!

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    1. Kristin, the quinoa orzo is really interesting and super tasty, though I'm not sure how available it is especially in Europe. I also bought corn orzo from Italy but have yet to try it. Let me know what you find in Sweden. I'd love to know.
      And I love the image of you opening your fridge to happy asparagus waiting for you.
      xo
      E

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  4. Fabulously springlike and wonderfully wholesome!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Thanks Rosa! I hope you're well. xoxo

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  5. Perfection, Erin! I, too, recently purchased my first bundle of asparagus. I just wish it had come after months of much-needed rain :(

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    1. I hear ya, lady. While lovely in the moment, this no rain situation is really scary. I keep hoping we'll have a wet spring.
      xoxo to you and yours,
      E

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  6. This dish simply screams - SPRING! Love it. It will be here before we know it and I am loving this weather lately except for the fact that we need the rain so desperately. Your photos are perfect! Hope you are doing well. Lisa :)

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    1. Lisa, I am loving the weather too and all the blooms are so beautiful. But yes I hear you about the rain... We NEED some desperately.
      xoxo
      E

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  7. simple and delicious!!! i loove aspargus <3

    https://aspoonfulofnature.wordpress.com/

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  8. E.
    Looks divine and I bet it smells great too. Good to see you!

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    1. Hey Oli, SO nice to hear from you! I hope all is well in your world! xoxo E

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  9. What a wonderful idea about storing the asparagus in water...why not brighten up your kitchen with them on display. Happy Nesting.

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  10. I have been going to town on asparagus -- buying it every week! The season is so short that it's gone before you know it. That's why I have to get my fix in when I can. Since I have preserved lemons and quinoa on hand at all times, this dish will be a breeze to enjoy, too.

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    1. Carolyn, I'm with you... I go crazy for asparagus while the season lasts. Such a delight, isn't it?
      xoxo
      E

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  11. I hadn't even thought about the parking when I read the article about the Monterey Market! It's starting to take me 15-20 minutes to find parking now! (Worth it...). I'm also quite excited about the spring veggies - these spears look like the perfect bunch! This feels like a great dish to kick off spring tomorrow. xoxo!

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    1. Parking at MM has already hit an all time slowness hasn't it? But I think that 15-20 minutes is going to go up after Mark's article;)
      Happy spring to you, Sarah!
      xoxo
      E

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  12. So lovely and bright and fresh!

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  13. Oh I can't wait for all the green glory that spring will bring to my table. I love asparagus, especially the green ones, and your dish is the prefect way to use them. It looks stunning Erin!
    xoxo

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    1. Me too Magda! I'm ready for spring veg. Bring em on!
      xoxo
      E

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  14. Oh this sounds like heaven, Erin! I just bought quinoa pasta for the first time. I love the white stuff, so much, but....... I really am trying to clean up my diet. Like f'reals.

    I look forward to spring dishes so much!... all the greens, bright flavors, so light and interesting after winter food. I hope your favorite market doesn't burst at the seams behind all that press! Sometimes best-kept secrets are secrets for a reason.....!

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    1. Sophie! Good for you that you're sticking with the healthy eating! I bet you're having fun eating new things, right?
      Too true about well-kept secret spots.... you want to share the good stuff with others, but it's such a bummer when the crowds are massive.
      I keep thinking about how sweet is was to meet you guys in Portland. What a treat.
      xoxo
      E

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  15. Alice ElliotMarch 20, 2015

    I bought my first bunch of asparagus yesterday, got home, steamed it, and ate the whole thing almost before my rice was cooked. So good.

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    1. Alice, you are my kind of woman:)

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  16. That photo of the asparagus: WOW. So Gorgeous! I am loving this dish. It is perfect and fresh. I must find that quinoa orzo somewhere, as orzo is something I have been missing since becoming 100% Gluten Free.

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    1. Kristie, I know what you mean... I really missed orzo and have been so happy to have this quinoa orzo to play around with. I bet you could order some from Edison if you can't find it locally. Do keep in mind that the cooking time on the package seems waaay off to me. Keep going until the texture feels right to you.
      Happy cooking!
      xo
      E

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  17. What a gorgeous salad Erin! We are at the other end of the season down here so will have to save this for spring. We planted an asparagus bed about 4 years ago and have just started harvesting our own asparagus. Such a treat x

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    1. Hey lovely Nicola, so nice to hear from you! Lucky you to have your own asparagus bed! We don't have the space or the sun in our yard, but my mom has a nice little patch and just yesterday we were nibbling from her garden. There's nothing like the freshly picked stuff.
      Happy autumn to you,
      xo
      E

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  18. I bought my first bundle of asparagus the other day too - mind you it's not local and likely came from Mexico. Regardless, I couldn't resist. And yes, that tectonic shift you mentioned is happening in my kitchen as well. Your salad looks looks lovely, as usual. Hooray for spring, my friend!

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    1. Happy spring to you too, my friend! Enjoy the tectonic shift:) xoxo

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  19. You had me at Asparagus, New uses for preserved lemon are always appreciated. I love their flavor, but can't break out of the Moroccan mold when it comes to their use.
    BUG QUESTION question: Can you share the source of your pottery, or is it a long standing collection? I am learning to throw and am inspired by the glaze on that first piece.

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    1. Hey there, I hope you'll try the preserved lemon dressing - it's one of my favorites!
      I recently bought that first ceramic piece from Ambatalia's shop in Mill Valley. Her sister-in-law is the potter, but shoot... I'm forgetting her name.
      xo
      E

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  20. I didn't even know there's quinoa orzo! :D

    what a lovely recipe for spring :)

    have a lovely day!
    salma

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    1. Hi Salma! So nice to hear from you.
      The quinoa orzo is really tasty. If you should ever come across it, give it a go:)
      Hope you and your family are well.
      xoxo
      E

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  21. Replies
    1. Thanks dude! Now that asparagus is here... Time to make your asparagus salad! Xoxo

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  22. Erin, this looks beautiful! I love the sound of this whole dish and I'm so curious about quinoa orzo, I've never seen that before. Also - those dishes are really gorgeous!! Happy Easter :) xo

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    1. Christine, keep your eye out for the quinoa orzo - it's quite a delight!
      I hope you had a happy Easter!
      xo
      Erin

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  23. I just visited your blog and I love it. I cant wait to explore all the recipes on your blog. One question: Since I am a Persian and it means that I love Basmati rice, Can I replace orzo with Basmati? or maybe it changes the taste too much?

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    1. Hi there, you could definitely use basmati here:)
      xo Erin

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    2. Thanks for your reply dear Erin

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  24. The first asparagus of the season is exciting! I love that it truly marks the start of spring. This dish sounds so good with the preserved lemon.

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    1. Happy spring to you Lisa! I hope all is well in your world:)
      xoxo
      Erin

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  25. no one makes asparagus look beautiful like you do!

    how is your lemon tree doing these days?

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    1. Emma, what a treat to hear from you! The lemon tree is doing great - packed with fruit at the moment. I hope all is well with you and that you're starting to thaw out a bit.
      xoxo
      E

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  26. Very nice photos. Dint know asparagus can look this Good.

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So good to hear from you... I appreciate each and every note you leave for me!

Thanks,
E