Asparagus & Spinach Pasta Salad with Beans, Feta and Lemon

August 19, 2010 § 3 Comments

Last night I pulled into the driveway, eased my accordian-legs out of the car and began to unload: I yanked out my sleeping bag, a bathing suit, a suitcase full of tangled clothes and a freezer bag full of road snacks, trailing beach sand and Redwood twigs across the floor.  A week and a half ago, I headed westbound toward California where I spent the next 10 days hop-scotching across the state.  I took a dizzying drive up Route 1 where I photographed my first glimpse of Elephant Seals.  I baked a nectarine and peach crisp in an old gas oven in the middle of the Redwoods.  I ate Bibimbop out of granite bowls in Oakland, sipped coffee at the famous Tartine Bakery in San Francisco (and spent hours in this marvelous bookstore) and caught up with new friends from Guatemala and old friends from early college days.  I also visited a gaggle of cousins, aunts and uncles and on my last night, I read poetry and ate chocolate truffles with my great aunt at the end of a warm, Pasadena day.

It’s been a marvelous close to a summer teeming with new experiences and ideas.  And like all good things, I’m left feeling bittersweet: a bit glum at Summer’s end, and, at the same time, a bit renewed with the smell of freshly sharpened pencils in the air.  Time to get back in the saddle and get back to work at the university.

Fortunately, I ate my way through California with gusto (I may have discovered the most delicious blueberry muffin on the West Coast).  But I’m excited to re-tie my cooking apron and use up the last of my summertime garden vegetables.

I made this recipe just before I left for California.  It calls for asparagus and spinach — two vegetables I had frozen from a springtime harvest.  The lemons, basil and onion came from the garden.  This recipe is a breeze to throw together and packs a delicious punch from the citrus and cheese.  I enjoyed it best heated, just a smidgen.

Ingredients:
1.5 cups pasta, uncooked*
1 large onion (about 2.5 cups chopped)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cups asparagus, chopped
2 cups spinach, chopped and cooked (about 6 cups raw)
2 cups cannellini beans
juice of 1 lemon (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup basil, loosely packed, ripped
sea salt, pepper

*For gluten-sensitive, choose brown-rice or quinoa pasta.

Method:

1. Heat a pot of water on the stove with a generous pinch of sea salt.  When boiling, add pasta, lower heat slightly and cook until al dente.

2.  Meanwhile, chop onion horizontally in long, thin strips.  Heat a large skillet on the stove and begin to saute the onions until crisp and brown (about 7 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.  While onion is sauteing rinse and chop asparagus and spinach.  After onion has browned, add asparagus and cook until bright green (approximately 3 minutes) and then add cooked spinach and cook until heated through (approximately 1 minute).  Alternatively, if using raw spinach, add at the same time as asparagus.

3.  Toss asparagus and spinach with feta cheese.  When pasta is cooked, don’t drain the pasta water!  *The reserved water can help loosen the pasta if the pasta clumps with the vegetables.*  Scoop pasta out of the water with a slotted spoon and toss with vegetables.  Squeeze lemon juice, add beans and toss.  Taste and season to preference.  If necessary, add a spoonful of reserved pasta water at a time to help loosen the pasta salad.  Serve at any heat or chilled — slightly warm is my favorite.

Diet Notes: gluten-free (see asterisk), nut-free

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