Recently I've had a thing for vegetables. I mean, it happens every year, right about the end of winter, when, of course, there are no fresh vegetables to be had. It's like tomatoes: I can't bring myself to buy them in the winter (especially after reading this article). And during the winter, I stick to the colder-weather regulars: chard, broccoli, mushrooms. Now, I do realize that these are not necessarily seasonal in the dead of winter. Or seasonal at all, for that matter. But a girl has got to eat, no two ways about it.
So now that the season's début has arrived, I'm gobbling everything that I can, vegetable-wise. Jeff and I have been making a concerted effort to eat more vegetarian dishes, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, we like vegetables, and we both firmly believe that cutting down our meat consumption is an overall positive step in our contribution to agricultural sustainability. It's hard, though, completely cutting out meat or meat products, even for a few meals per week; I make a lot of dishes that are completely veg except for chicken stock, or a slice of bacon (yes, yes, I'm aware of how un-vegetarian things made with bacon are).
In that spirit, what I have on offer for you, are two bona-fide vegetarian dishes. The orzo is surprisingly good, almost like an extremely simple risotto. I would even venture that you could do the whole dish, risotto-style, with rice and stuff. And the asparagus... it is my hands-down favorite way to prepare it. The spears become tender and sweet, and they are absolutely wonderful. We had them together last night, and it was the perfect early-spring dinner. Try them! And if you have any ideas for truly vegetarian meals, please please send them my way.
Wild Mushroom Orzo, adapted from Urban Italian
for the mushroom stock
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 sprig fresh thyme
for the orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups mixed wild mushrooms (I used a mixture of oyster and crimini), washed, dried, and chopped into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 1/2 cups orzo
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1. prepare the mushroom stock In a small pot, immerse the dried porcini in 4 1/2 cups of water. Add the sprig of thyme whole.
2. Bring the mushroom mixture to a boil over high heat, then remove immediately from the stove and set aside for 5 minutes.
3. prepare the orzo Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepot. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until it takes on a light golden color, about 3 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
4. Add the mixed wild mushrooms and stir well to combine. Sauté on medium-heat for 1-2 minutes, until the mushrooms are just starting to color. At this point, but not before, add the salt and pepper. Mix well to combine and continue cooking for another 30 seconds or so, until the mushrooms have started to reduce and color.
5. Add the sherry (preferably away from the heat, so that you don't catch on fire). Stir to combine and then return to the heat for just a few seconds, until the vermouth and mushroom juices form a syrupy mixture in the bottom of the pan. This will not take terribly long, so pay attention!
6. Remove the pan from the heat, add the orzo, and mix well, so the grains are covered with the pan juices.
7. Remove the thyme sprig from the porcini mixture and discard. Pour the porcinis and liquid over the orzo.
8. Return the pan to medium-high heat and bring to a low boil, stirring well to combine. Turn the heat down to low, and keep the mixture at a lazy bubble for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The orzo is done when it's swelled up and become tender but still has a slight bite. There should be a little liquid on the bottom, and the orzo mixture should be a bit wet. (Note: this instruction didn't make a lot of sense when I read it first, but it did once I saw what was happening. You'll see--trust the writing!) See, if you cook all of the liquid away, and completely absorbed, you will have a sticky mess.
9. to finish Remove pot from the heat. Add the butter and mix in well, add the cheese and continue stirring. Add the thyme and mix well, until the texture of the dish is softer and richer from the butter and cheese and all the ingredients are well combined. Serve immediately, with extra cheese grated on top.
1/2 - 1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends sliced off, ends peeled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. On a baking sheet, pour oil over asparagus spears. Swish around to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes, or until tips start to caramelize and spears are tender.