One of the best things about spring is the gradual reappearance of foods at the farmer's market that haven't been around since last season. It's like meeting up with old friends who haven't been in your regular circle for a while. Eyes lit up, grin etched on face... I'd run over and give those long-time-no-see-veggies a hug if I didn't care at all that people would consider me crazy. I'm not the only person who is so moved by the first asparagus crop or the return of the cultivated mushroom guy, am I? Even if I am, I wouldn't trade that elation. It's a pleasure to appreciate the bounty of this time of year.
This past weekend I did, in fact, run into my old chums Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms. (I couldn't tell if they were happy to see me?) My boyfriend and I decided that they simply must come home with us for dinner. Actually, some of the mushrooms didn't make it past breakfast. They were a fantastic addition to our veggie scramble, along with fresh spinach leaves and yellow onion procured that same morning.
My mind tends to churn over menu ideas fairly vigorously on Saturday mornings. I don't have the mental burden of work or school at the forefront, and the market, which has risen to dogmatic ritual for Dan and I, is the perfect place to become lost in daydreams of delicious potential. Saturdays are the days when I pull out dusty cookbooks and leaf through stacks of recipe clippings. I love this time.
I decided that our asparagus and mushrooms would be perfect for a pasta dinner. Pasta for the two of us. This is what happened in the kitchen that weekend...
Pasta with Chunky Tomato Sauce, Asparagus & Oyster Mushroomsserves 2-3
8 oz. spiral pasta
2 T. olive oil, separated
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1/2 lb. asparagus spears, cut into 1- 1 1/2" pieces
1/2 lb. mushrooms, slice (I used oyster)
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 lg. clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
salt to taste
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cayenne or crushed red chili pepper
2 hand fulls raw spinach, torn into pieces
Put water for the pasta on to boil, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, puree 2/3 of the diced tomatoes with their juices in a blender or food processor, and set aside.
Add 1 T. of olive oil to a large skillet (preferably with sides) and heat over medium. Add the onion, and saute for several minutes until it begins to turn translucent. Add the mushrooms and asparagus.
Season the veggies with salt, add the cayenne and thyme and stir to combine. Cover the pan, leaving a slight opening for some steam to escape, and steam veggies for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.
Add the tomato puree and the remaining diced tomato chunks to the skillet and stir it up. Add the garlic, bring the sauce to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season sauce with more salt and/or cayenne if desired, and test the asparagus for tenderness (it should still have a slight crunch). Turn off the heat or continue simmering if necessary.
Add pasta back into the saucepan used for cooking, along with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and heat for several minutes to warm the pasta.
Arrange torn spinach leaves onto serving plates, divide pasta onto spinach, and top with the tomato/veggie sauce. Serve steaming hot plates of tasty food to yourself and your sweetie (or whoever you want to share with!).