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March 30, 2009

Pasta with Spring Flavors

Often, ideas for recipes surface during my long afternoon walks. I come home from work, gather up the dogs, and head out for some exercise. During walks I clear my head, let go of the day's events, and daydream. With lunch wearing off, my daydreams tend toward food, and what I'd like to have for dinner. 

On a recent stroll, I noticed a few of those hearty green cones that precede blooming crocuses nosing their way up through the soil. The sight of growing plants got me thinking about spring flavors: vegetables, green and fresh, alongside light, lemony pasta. Edible things may not be growing yet, but can't we pretend? 

Artichokes, a spring crop in Mediterranean climates, receive plenty of well-deserved attention this time of year, but jarred or canned hearts are more practical in this recipe, which requires roasting them in quantity. Maine-grown asparagus will appear in May, but if you can't wait that long, bunches of delicate thin spears from elsewhere are available now in grocery stores. Roasting the vegetables makes them rich and tender, and creates crunchy caramelized bits that contrast with the soft, creamy orzo. Lemon juice and white wine contribute bright, sunny flavors, and cannellini beans make this a complete and satisfying vegetarian meal.  
After an hour's walk spent plotting this dish, I returned to my kitchen and hungrily threw it together. The result of a few rounds of experimentation, this easy recipe balances flavors and textures, and works equally well with white or whole wheat pasta. Cold leftovers make for a lovely pasta salad lunch. 
It may be snowing today in parts of Maine, but crocuses mean we don't have long to wait. I'm ready to start enjoying the flavors of spring.

Lemony Orzo with Roasted Spring Vegetables

2 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts in brine
1 pound thin asparagus spears
4 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cups orzo (white or wheat)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
Juice of one lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
Pinch of salt
1 14-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 
 Lemon slices

Preheat oven to 400°. Drain the artichoke hearts and half or quarter them. Toss them with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and lots of freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Roast them on a large baking sheet for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through. Trim the asparagus spears and place on the baking sheet beside the artichoke hearts. Drizzle asparagus with the remaining olive oil, and more salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables for another 20 minutes, until brown and crispy in spots.

Once the asparagus is in the oven, begin preparing the orzo. In a medium pot, boil water and cook the orzo for 5 minutes, until almost al dente but not quite cooked through. Drain the orzo, toss with 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil, and set aside. 

In the same pot, heat the remaining Tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic for 2 minutes. Add the orzo and wine, and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the liquid is boiled away and the orzo is al dente. 

Remove the pot from heat. Stir in the lemon juice, parsley, cannellini beans, and salt. Serve with sliced lemon and roasted vegetables. 

Serves 4.

Mary Lake is a writer, teacher, columnist for MF&L, and vegetarian blogger: Mitten Machen

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