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Local Foods Tuesday: Asparagus Apologia

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Cashew-Cilantro Pesto over Ravioli, Roasted Asparagus, & Mushrooms

Okay, okay, so we didn’t mean to piss off the vegans, but somewhere in between dead babies and an ontological inquiry into the humble mollusk, we lost sight of what’s really important: good, fresh, locally grown food.

In an attempt to put our money where our (hungry) mouth is, we visited the Farmer's Market at Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade this weekend. We were delighted to discover a rainbow of fingerling potato varieties, Oxnard strawberries bursting with sugary juice, small, intensely sweet cherries, and huge bouquets of exotic desert flowers. The asparagus is having a great season, too: there’s big asparagus and skinny asparagus and regular asparagus and they’re all shiny and smell of green.

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Here are two easy and unique recipes that highlight roasted asparagus. Roasting is a great way to bring out the natural sweetness of asparagus, plus it softens stalks that can often be tough or fibrous. These quick meals also use lots of ingredients that can found at any neighborhood Farmer's Market, and can be adapted to be vegetarian or vegan-friendly (consider this my asparagus apologia). Each recipe makes enough food for two people with ample leftovers that will taste great the next day.

Recipes for Asparagus Pepperoni Pasta with Balsamic Sauce and Roasted Asparagus Ravioli with Cashew-Cilantro Pesto below the jump.

Picture by Carrie Meathrell via flickr.

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Asparagus-Pepperoni Pasta with Balsamic Sauce

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Chop one pound of asparagus stalks into one-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
Chop 6 ounces of pepperoni (stick or sliced) into bite-sized pieces. Quickly sauté over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.
Reduce ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar to about 3 tbsp – it'll be thick and aromatic. Add a pinch of sugar to balance flavors.
Prepare pasta (penne works well). Once pasta is drained, add roasted asparagus, pepperoni, and balsamic. Mix well, then throw in a few tablespoons of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese. The butter and the balsamic will blend to coat the other ingredients.
Serve hot with extra parmesan on the top, or chill and eat later. Simply remove the pepperoni for a veg-friendly meal.

Cashew-Cilantro Pesto with Ravioli and Roasted Asparagus

Prepare pesto: Roughly chop two big handfuls of cashews and about half a bunch of cilantro. Put into food processor; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3-4 cloves of garlic (also roughly chopped), juice from one lemon, and a tablespoon of grated parmesan. Blend until pureed, adding more olive oil as you go. Season with salt and pepper and add more cheese or other ingredients until you get the texture you want.

Prepare ravioli according to directions. If you want to try your hand at making your own ravioli, check out this vegan-friendly recipe, which of course you can modify by adding real cheese (ricotta is always best for ravioli).

Roast asparagus in oven according to directions above. You can also add sauteed mushrooms or any other fresh veggies - zucchini would work as well. Toss ravioli with pesto and asparagus until pesto coats all ingredients.

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The pesto can also be made in batches and frozen - it's good as a marinade for meat and seafood as well.

Find a farmer's market near you at FarmerNet.com.

Photo courtesy of Mr Crash via flickr.