Writer/blogger/photographer extraordinaire Heidi Swanson has a new book out, Super Natural Cooking, which bills itself as both a cookbook and a guide to incorporating more whole and natural foods into your diet. (Heidi is a friend -- and one of only a handful of other food bloggers I've actually met in real life -- so don't take this as an unbiased review.)
The book is clearly aimed at those cooks, myself included, who have never used sweeteners like agave nectar or whole grain flours like amaranth flour. But, don't fear: It's not your mother's natural foods cookbook. With recipes ranging from farro with green onion sauce, toasted walnuts to thin mint cookies, the book doesn't hit your over the head with the "all natural" regime. Instead, it's more of a gentle nudge in the direction of whole grains and nutrient-rich ingredients, using recipes that look delicious (thanks to Heidi's luscious photography).
I decided to make the recipe for "Straw and Hay Fettuccine Tangle with Spring Asparagus Puree," egg and spinach pasta tossed with a pesto-like puree of asparagus, spinach, toasted pine nuts, and parmigiano-reggiano. The recipe is bereft of whole grains (though you could certainly use a whole wheat pasta). The emphasis here is on the folate-rich main ingredient, asparagus. It's a quick, easy dish for warm weather cooking (which has finally arrived in these parts) and a welcome change from basil pesto.
Kitchen Notes: You may need to season the puree with a little more salt and lemon than indicated. Just do so incrementally so you don't overwhelm the sauce. There will be plenty of leftover puree when you're done cooking. Heidi recommends slathering it on bread or as a topping for pizza. I used it in a simple risotto, stirred in right at the end of the cooking process.
Straw and Hay Fettuccine Tangle with Spring Asparagus Puree
by Heidi Swanson
From Super Natural Cooking
Serves 4 to 6
1 bunch asparagus spears, trimmed and halved crosswise
3 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
4 ounces dried spinach fettuccine or 6 ounces fresh
4 ounces dried egg fettuccine or 6 ounces fresh
Bring 2 pots of water to a rolling boil, one large and one medium. You'll use he large one to cook the pasta and the medium one to blanch the asparagus.
To make the asparagus puree, salt the asparagus water and drop the spears in the pot. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spears are a bright green and barely tender. Drain and transfer to a food processor (preferably) or a blender. Add the spinach, garlic, the 1 cup Parmesan, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts. Puree and, with the motor running, drizzle in the 1/4 cup olive oil until a paste forms. It should be the loose consistency of a pesto; if too thick, thin it with a bit of the pasta water. Add the lemon juice and salt, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
Salt the pasta water well and cook the pasta until just tender; you'll need less time for fresh pasta, more fro dried. Drain and toss immediately with 1 cup of the asparagus puree, stirring in more afterward depending on how heavily coated you like your pasta. Serve sprinkled with the remaining 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, a dusting of Parmesan, and a quick drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Recipe reprinted with permission from the author.