Asparagus and smokey ham orzo
Just as necessity is the mother of invention, sometimes the creation of a new recipe is borne of unexpected necessity.
Yesterday, for example, I was stuck at home waiting for a delivery that didn't arrive until 4 p.m., so I never got to the store (on the off chance they had a native fisherman supply) and had to instead plan dinner around my freezer contents. Admittedly, those chuck eye steaks I'd bought for last week and ended up throwing in the freezer were calling my name after all the beefy talk here this week.
Or such was my plan until I reviewed the contents of the refrigerator, and found that pound of sliced black forest deli ham that Bob had picked up for me on his way home last Friday--a whole pound, when I'd only asked for 1/4. It would rot if I left it another day. And I had a bunch of the first local asparagus of the season too, now five days old. Asparagus and ham? A favorite gratin suggested itself, but alas I was out of potatoes.
So it was fallback time, and happily it didn't take me long to dream up a new concept: A happy mix of diced onions and ham sauteed until the onions were transluscent, tossed with al dente orzo pasta and piled onto the center of a warm plate and topped with spears of asparagus blanched and then finished in a skillet of lemon butter...and it couldn't hav gone better with a great little Sauvignon blanc from British Columbia that we already had open, the 2005 La Frenz. The dish relegated the ham to the seasoning department and allowed the asparagus center stage, an honor the first local asparagus of the season deserves.
Here's how it went together. If you try it or something similar, please let us know how you fared. Obvious tweaks would be to feature other fresh vegetables as the main entree--the first broccoli to come out of your garden, or a big bunch of nutty, bitter rappini.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1/2 medium onion, small diced
1/2 pound thin sliced deli ham, diced
1 tblsp butter
3 tblsp finely chopped parsley
2 cups chicken broth
8 ounces orzo
1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper
10 fat spears of asparagus
2 tblsp butter
1 tblsp lemon juice
fleur de sel
1. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and add the onion. Saute for about two minutes until the onions soften, then add the ham and cook until the ham and onion flavors have completely melded, about ten minutes total. Remove from heat, sprinkle with pepper and parsley.
2. While the onion/ham mix is sauteeing, bring chicken broth to a boil in another saucepan and add orzo and a splash of olive oil to keep the orzo from clumping. Cook until orzo absorbs all the liquid, about 8 minutes, adding a little water if neccessary--orzo will be al dente. Add onion/ham mixture, keep warm.
3. While the orzo's cooking, prepare the asparagus. Trim, or peel if neccessary (I peel the bottom third to enhance the absorption of the precious lemon butter), then add to boiling salted water and cook for about two minutes. Drain, melt butter in the same pan, and return the asparagus. Just before serving, add the lemon juice. (Don't add early, the asparagus will discolor.)
4. To serve, mound the seasoned orzo in the center of the plate, make a little trough in the center and place the asparagus there. Pour remaining lemon butter over, and top with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
MATCHING WINE: I fashioned the dish specifically to accompany a good fruity sauvignon blanc, and it was spectacular with the latest realease of La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc from British Columbia, which I reviewed recently on WLDG. The dish would also work with a rich sauvignon blanc from Sancerre like the fabulous 05 Thomas Labaille La Monts Dame, or an Austrian gruner veltliner.