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Penne with asparagus pesto
By RITA DeMONTIS, QMI Agency
CANOE - Lifewise Updated: addthis

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, Last Updated: 2:30 PM ET


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    We're stalking asparagus ó after all, it's the season!

    This delicate, delicious, green-hued veg just brims with goodness ó no fat, high in fibre and just 20 calories for a mere eight spears, asparagus is the perfect harbinger of spring.

    According to the Ontairo Asparagus Growers' Marketing Board, local asparagus should be appearing on in your local grocery store or supermarket in early May. We can't wait!

    Enjoy the following recipes courtesy of Foodland Ontario.

    GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH SOUTH AMERICAN PEPPER SAUCE


    Chilean Pebre sauce is low fat, easy to make and adds just the right zip. Choose uniform asparagus stalks for easier timing on the grill. Serve hot or at room temperature. The sauce is also good with grilled meats or fish.
    1/2 cup (125 ml) minced sweet red pepper
    1/4 cup (50 ml) minced onion
    1/3 cup (75 ml) minced fresh cilantro or parsley
    3 Tbsp. (45 ml) olive oil
    1 Tbsp. (15 ml) each water and white vinegar
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 tsp (5 ml) dried oregano
    1/8 tsp. (0.5 mL) hot red pepper flakes or smoked paprik
    1/4 tsp (1 ml) each salt and pepper
    1 lb (500 g) asparagus, trimmed

    In small bowl or measuring cup, mix red pepper, onion, cilantro, 2 Tbsp. (30ml) of olive oil, water, vinegar, garlic, 1/2 tsp. (2 ml) of oregano, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper; cover and let stand at least 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

    Mix remaining oil and oregano; brush on asparagus to coat well. Place asparagus in grill basket or directly on grill over medium-high heat. Close cover and grill, turning with tongs, for 3 to 5 minutes each side, or until just tender. Place in shallow serving dish; top with sauce. Serve hot or at room temperature.

    Serves 4.

    ASPARAGUS AND BARLEY PILAF

    Substituting barley for rice is a great way to add more fibre to your diet. Serve as a side dish with your favourite fish or meat.

    2 Tbsp. (30ml) olive oil
    1 cup (250 ml) quick-cooking pearl or pot barley
    1/2 cup (125 ml) slivered almonds (optional)
    1 cup (250 ml) diced onion
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 Tbsp. (15 ml) dried dill weed
    1 carton (900 ml) vegetable or chicken broth
    1 lb. (500g) asparagus, trimmed and cut in 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
    1/4 cup (50 ml) grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
    1 lemon, grated

    In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; stir in barley, and almonds (if using) to toast, about 3 minutes. Add onion, garlic and dill weed; cook stirring for 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth; cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook for about 30 minutes or until almost tender. Stir in asparagus; cooking, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender-crisp and liquid is absorbed. Stir in cheese if using. Sprinkle with lemon rind.

    Tip: Substitute 3 Tbsp. (45 ml) finely chopped fresh dill for dried dill weed and add with asparagus.

    Serves 6

    PENNE WITH ASPARAGUS PESTO

    Pesto was first created in Italy as a thick sauce made from basil, but now other herbs and vegetables are often substituted. In this tasty spring side dish asparagus and mint give a nutritious twist. It would also make a great meal for vegetarians.

    1 lb (500g) asparagus, trimmed
    1 cup (250 ml) mint leaves
    4 cloves garlic
    1/2 cup (125 ml) walnut pieces or slivered almonds
    1 Tbsp. (15 ml) each finely grated lemon rind and lemon juice
    3/4 tsp (4 ml) salt
    1/2 tsp (2 ml) pepper
    1/4 cup (50 ml) vegetable or chicken broth
    4 cups (1L) whole wheat or regular penne
    1/4 cup (50 ml) grated Parmesan cheese

    Remove asparagus tips and set aside. Cut stalks into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces to make about 2-1/4 cups (550 mL). Cook stalks in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool slightly. Drain well.

    Place asparagus stalks and mint in food processor. With motor running, drop garlic through the feed tube and process until chopped. Turn off motor. Add walnuts, lemon rind, lemon juice, salt and pepper; coarsely chop. Add oil and broth; process until blended but nuts are still a bit chunky. (Make ahead: Cover and refrigerate overnight. Return to room temperature before using.)

    Meanwhile, cook penne according to package directions, about 12 minutes; adding asparagus tips for last 2 minutes. Drain well and return to warm saucepan. Add pesto, tossing well. Serve in pasta bowls; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

    Serves 8

    ASPARAGUS SUSHI SQUARES

    Sushi squares make a quick and easy light appetizer, and these make a great introduction for the beginner in the world of sushi. Roasted nori is available at most grocery stores or Asian markets. Ontario asparagus adds brilliant colour to serving platters. For a pretty presentation, place every other rice square on a small piece of Bibb lettuce.

    1 cup (250 ml) sushi rice (short-grain rice)
    1-1/4 cups (300 ml) water
    8 stalks asparagus
    1 sheet roasted nori
    1/4 cup (50 ml) seasoned rice vinegar
    2 oz (60 g) smoked salmon or prosciutto
    2 Tbsp. (30 ml) Russian-style mustard
    2 Tbsp. (30 ml) light mayonnaise
    2 Tbsp. (30 ml) sesame seeds, toasted

    In medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover and bring rice to boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 12 to15 minutes or until water is totally absorbed. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, wash and break asparagus stalks where they snap easily; discard ends. Cover in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes or until fork-tender. Rinse in cold water. Pat dry and slice into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces.

    With scissors, cut nori sheet along perforated lines. Cut each long strip into 1-1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; set aside.

    With fork, gently fluff rice; stir in vinegar. If not using right away, cover with damp cloth. Slice smoked salmon into 1-1/2-inch (4 cm) strips to wrap around asparagus. Combine mustard with mayonnaise.

    Lay out nori squares on work surface. Wearing latex gloves, wet hands. Squeeze 1 tsp. (5 ml) sushi rice into tight ball; place on work surface and smooth and shape into square or leave round. Place on nori square; immediately place on serving platter. Repeat with remaining rice. Can be covered with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature until serving time.

    Just before serving; place 1/4 tsp. (1 ml) mustard mixture on each rice ball. Wrap thin slice of salmon around asparagus piece; place on mustard. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve or refrigerate.

    Makes 24 squares

    This story was posted on Sat, May 1, 2010

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