Yesterday I made a special trip to a farm stand about a half-hour away which is always first to open and the last to close every year (closing day is New Years’ Eve). I was planning dinner for guests and I needed some inspiration.
I bought whatever was local and looked good. Spinach, asparagus, leeks and fava beans (not local) looked terrific–all were oversized and bursting with green goodness. I decided to plan my meal around these four items.
I didn’t have any time to prepare a stew or a braise the day before, so as a main course, I decided to serve simple grilled lamb loin chops (see Perfect Grilled Lamb Loin Chops), accompanied by sauteed spinach and fava beans.
As a first course, I toyed with the idea of making goat cheese and asparagus ravioli–a very involved affair which would have been fun but taken all afternoon to accomplish. Instead, I decided on an abbreviated, deconstructed version of the same ravioli–fresh egg fettucine, tossed with asparagus, sage butter, and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese blended with chives.
This shortcut allowed me to enjoy my afternoon and prep the entire meal at (relatively) the last minute (about 2 hours prior to the arrival of guests). At that time, I blanched, squeezed and chopped the spinach, cleaned and sliced the leeks, blanched and diced the asparagus, and shucked and peeled the fava beans (with the aid of a willing helper).
That provided me with the mise en place to finish preparing the meal when my guests arrived. When they arrived, I simply boiled and assembled the pasta, and seared the lamb chops on the grill. When the lamb chops were finished searing, they went into the oven, at which time we sat down and enjoyed our pasta. When we were finished the pasta, the chops came out of the oven to rest.
While they rested, I prepared the vegetables. The spinach was sauteed in some butter and chicken broth. The fava beans were sauteed with some diced Italian speck (pancetta or bacon would do just fine) and leeks.
The meal was beautiful and fairly effortless, thanks to advanced planning of the exact timing and sequence of preparation.
Tonight I had a table of very sophisticated palettes and they were truly appreciative of every detail–the ultimate pleasure for a cook!
Pasta wth Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Sage Butter
1 1/2 lbs fresh egg fettucine
2 lbs. asparagus
12 tbls butter
6 sage leave, torn in half
8 oz. fresh goat cheese
2 tbls fresh chives
1 c chicken broth
plenty of grated parmigiano for sprinkling
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot of boiling salted water, drop in asparagus spears and blanch for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and shock in cold water. Cut into 1″ pieces and set aside.
In a bowl, combine goat cheese and chives and set aside.
While pasta boils, gently steep the sage leaves in butter on lowest of heat for about 2 minutes. Turn heat to high and saute asparagus.
When pasta is cooked (fresh pasta only takes 2 – 3 minutes to cook), add pasta, along with the broth and some pasta cooking liquid. Toss and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
Serve in warmed bowls with plenty of grated parmigiano on the side.