06 June 2013

June's Quinoa

Meals have been a little simpler around here lately but that does not mean they lack detail or flavor. In fact, I think simple meals with ingredients that don't require too much temperature-watching or straight-away serving are the best place to play around with texture, color and flavors and pairings.

Fresh produce, grains, salads, bread, cheese, and baked (breadcrumb-less) chicken meatballs using this sausage, both roasted and blanched veggies, avocados, egg dishes, dipping sauces...they all present opportunities for details and blending and have been appearing on my table quite a bit. 

There's no one named June in my life but the month brings changes always. For one, it's a birthday month! For two, lots of spring produce appears at the ready, and for three, it gets quite warmer. And with the warmth and late afternoon sun streaming in through the bedroom, I haven't wanted to do too much heavy cooking. But it's the time of year where cooking a nice batch of a few bulk items goes a long way.

The other night I threw together this hearty salad as a side to those chicken meatballs I mentioned at the top (side note: The herb leftover herb pesto for this salad is a great dip/sauce for chicken meatballs or other protein), and one of the many good things about this layered salad is the fact that you can prep all the ingredients in advance.

Here's what I worked with: carrots and asparagus-oven-roasted. Torn handfuls of arugula. Cooked, fluffed and cooled quinoa. Toasted walnuts and ricotta salata shavings. An herb pesto made with arugula, mint, basil, toasted walnuts and a bit more ricotta salata for creaminess. Rounded out with coarse salt, lemon juice and drizzled with more olive oil. It's the sort of thing that can sit on the table half, mostly or totally prepared while you do some other things or make another component of the meal or just hang out. It's snappy, herby and hearty all at once and it's welcoming to other accompaniments.

The next day for lunch I also made a variation of this using the leftover pesto and roast carrots, arugula and quinoa and added avocado and cheese...and the next night the herb pesto was mixed with a bit of avocado for a nice spread for bread...you see where I'm going, the routes are endless, use the ingredients as a canvas...I encourage you to get the most out of all the components.

June's Quinoa

Herb Pesto:
Making this pesto is largely a matter of preference. For this usage I like to play around with making it more herby than oily but if that's not your thing, feel free to increase the oil. The substitution of a softer/tangier cheese here makes a nice change from the typical parm.

1 packed cup chopped herbs/greens of your choice: I used basil/arugula/mint
Small handful toasted walnuts or other nuts
1 clove garlic, minced
2-4 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
2 T goat or ricotta salata cheese
Salt to taste
Warm water if needed

Using a food processor, your hands or an immersion blender (that's me) combine the nuts and  herbs, then the garlic, lemon juice and a trickle of the oil. Add more oil by the teaspoon, until you are getting a bit of an emulsion/creaminess. Scrape and stir, add a little water if needed to thin, add pinch of salt, the cheese, and stir, and then a bit more oil and salt if needed, stir again and set aside.

7-8 asparagus spears, whole and trimmed
3 large carrots, chopped into batons
1/4 c herbs, chopped (use same as pesto)
2 big handfuls arugula
Scant cup cooked quinoa
2 T toasted walnuts
1/4 c shaved ricotta salata
Salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice
olive oil

Roast Carrots and Asparagus: Heat oven to 425. Toss each vegetable with oil, salt, pepper, with your hands and spread on two baking sheets. Set the timer for 15 minutes. The asparagus will be done first. Take it out, set aside to cool and let carrots cook another 15 minutes. Cool both on a rack, the chop asparagus.

To assemble:

Get a big bowl and start by tearing the arugula into it. Next add the quinoa and roasted vegetables. Add a dash each of lemon juice and olive oil, toss gently, then add a heaping spoonful of herb pesto, pinch of salt and pepper, toss again, add half the cheese, toss toss and finally, finish with the remainder of cheese and toasted nuts, a drizzle more of oil and lemon juice, and a pinch of coarse salt.

Serves 2-3 heartily.

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