Quinoa with Roasted Asparagus, Radicchio and Candied Hazelnuts
Do you cook mostly with recipes? I tend to make things up as I go and often improvise with whatever I have on hand that day. I usually start with one ingredient and then build the dish around it. I have had quinoa on my mind for a few days now and finally it got its turn in the kitchen. Quinoa cooks quickly and easily into a nice and fluffy pile of little grains that feature beautifully in several dishes. So today it was quinoa as the base. I cooked it first and then looked in the fridge to see what else I had. There was a bunch of tall and slim asparagus standing upright in a in a little bit of water in a glass to keep them hydrated and I thought they would combine well with the quinoa. Roasting them for a few minutes in the oven would be nice, with just a light drizzle of good olive oil. What else is in the fridge? I had a radicchio. Radicchio sounded good, finely shredded it can add a layer of flavour that would bring complexity to the dish. That’s one thing I learned over the years from reading and taking cooking classes: building layers of flavour into the dish. It makes complete sense to me, layering flavours. How about you? Do you think of that when you compose a dish? The nutty quinoa, distinctly flavoured asparagus and slightly bitter radicchio form the first layers of flavour and then they can be balanced by the garnishes: parsley, green onion, the sweetness of candied hazelnuts and finally a lemony dressing that would pull it all together.
We think of quinoa as a grain but it is in fact a seed of a plant from the same family as beets and spinach, originally grown by the Inca in South America. It was revived fairly recently as one of the new superfood packed with protein and became a very trendy grain (or seed) and is commonly found today on restaurant menus and food stores. It makes a light and fluffy pile of tiny grains with a slightly nutty flavour and either chewy or very gentle crunch. I used Royal Organic Pearl Quinoa from Alter Eco. This particular grain grows only in one place: the salt flats in Bolivia at 13000 feet above sea level. The grains are slightly larger than normal quinoa and cook fairly quickly. Pearl grain generally means that outer layer of bran has been removed but I don’t know if this is the case with quinoa or wether the name only refers to the pearly hue of the grain (there are also red and black quinoa). Alter Eco website says that the “bark fragments” are removed during processing including the slightly bitter tasting chemical coati called saponin that coats the grains as a natural defense system. Quinoa should be rinsed before cooking and the proportion for grain to water is about 1:2, although the instruction on this Alter Eco package called for 1:1.5 and produced beautiful fluffy light grains.
I cooked 1 cup of quinoa that yielded about 4 cups cooked. I didn’t use it all in this recipe as I was making only two servings. I kept the rest of the cooked quinoa in the fridge and it may make become breakfast or another type dish tomorrow. I tossed the salad with parsley pesto that I usually have ready in the fridge, and a little extra squirt of fresh lemon juice. Recipe below.
1 cup pearl quinoa
1 1/2 cups water (or according to your package directions)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
A bunch of slim asparagus
A drizzle of olive oil
2 cups shredded radicchio
1/2 cups candied hazelnuts (buy prepared and keep in the freezer)
2 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
Salt and pepper
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
Rinse the quinoa under cold running water or according to your package directions. If you use bulk quinoa use 2 cups water for one cup quinoa.
Place quinoa, water and salt in a 2 quart pot and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook until water is absorbed.
Remove from heat and set aside for a few minutes. the grains will fluff up as they rest.
Trim the root end of the asparagus by cutting it about quarter of the way up from the root end or snap it where they break.
Cover a baking sheet with foil, place asparagus on the pan and drizzle with just a little bit of olive oil. toss the asparagus to coat with the oil on all sides.
Place the asparagus in a preheated 400F oven and roast until they are golden and cooked through, about 15 minutes, depending on your oven and the thickness of the spears.
Place quinoa in a mixing bowl, add some of the parsley pesto (recipe below) just enough to moisten the quinoa but not drown it in dressing.
Cut the asparagus in 3-4 pieces each and add to quinoa.
Add shredded radicchio, green onion and hazelnuts and toss gently.
Squeeze extra lemon juice over and season with salt and pepper to taste. You can use fleur de sel or maldon salt as a finishing salt, sprinkled on top.
To serve spoon the salad onto serving plates, drizzle a little more dressing around and serve warm or at room temperature.
2/3 cup olive oil
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Place all ingredients in a small food processor and process until blended.
Use immediately or place in a glass container and refrigerate until needed. Bring back to room temperature before using.