brunch, sides

asparagus + peas with lemon-mint gremolata.

I’m on a spring vegetable high, friends;  it’s the week I test-drive potential Easter recipes. I give myself a considerable amount of freedom with Easter side dishes, mostly because my family insists upon having ham as the main: It’s 2019, and still no one will let me roast a leg of frigging lamb. So I spend most of my time on the sides: vegetable-forward, fresh, bright stuff befitting the weather, which has been particularly nice this year. Like Thanksgiving, I could do an entirely vegetarian menu at Easter and be completely satisfied, so I take my sides (and desserts, let’s be honest) very seriously. 

I’m currently holding two cookbooks hostage from the library: Gail Simmons’ Bringing it Home and Edward Lee’s Buttermilk Graffiti. Have I been watching Top Chef reruns? Yes I have. I found this recipe in Gail’s book, and I thought it may work perfectly as an easter dish: intensely green with fresh herbs and lemon, and not overworked. In the book, it’s the verdant base for beautiful seared scallops, but it clearly stands on its own as a side dish minus the protein. You can serve it warm or at room temperature, which is a bonus when you’re trying to get things on the table, and it’s really some chopping, toasting, and throwing things in a pan for a few minutes, and you’re done. Really, that’s it.

The gremolata is a must here: make double if you want extra, but one batch does the trick for me, because it keeps it pretty familiar for people who aren’t used to a big hit of herbs or lemon. I’ve adapted the recipe to include a little verjus if you have it: it’s one of those chef-y ingredients that I have kicking around, because it’s super versatile and I love it, enough to write an article about it awhile back – still one of my fave ingredients, especially in the spring and summer for dressings and things like this. Read more about what verjus is here, but know that it’s not a deal-breaker for this recipe at all: use a little white wine vinegar in its place, maybe, or just leave it out.

Adapted from Bringing it Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating by Gail Simmons.

Serves | 8 to 10 |

There’s no hard and fast herb you need to stick with for gremolata, and in spring, our mint is hit or miss. I love it here, but if it’s looking anemic, use all parsley, or a combo of parsley and basil.

Add-ins: I like this light and fresh as is, but if you really wanted to get a little more layered with it, add some shaved parmesan or crisped bacon crumbled on top…both would fit in nicely, but are completely optional: just depends on what you’re going for. 

for the gremolata:

  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, packed OR 1/4 cup parsley and 1/4 cup mint, both finely chopped
  • 4 tsp lemon zest, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp verjus (optional – see notes above in post)

for the rest of it:

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp shallot, finely minced
  • 1 lb asparagus, ends trimmed, cut diagonally in 1 to 2 inch lengths
  • 2 cups frozen (or fresh) peas, thawed under cold water if frozen
  • 5 oz spinach (about 5 cups packed)
  • kosher or sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

| Preparation – Gremolata | Combine chopped mint (or whatever fresh herbs you’re using), lemon zest and garlic in a small bowl and toss together: add the verjus olive oil to bring it all together and set aside.

| Preparation – The rest of it | Add pine nuts to a small skillet and set over medium heat. Toast, stirring frequently, until deep golden and fragrant; set aside.

Add olive oil to a large skillet (we’re definitely talking 12 inches here) and heat over medium; add shallot and cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes until soft. Add asparagus and cook 3 minutes until crisp-tender, then add peas and cook another 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer the vegetables to a mixing bowl, scraping everything out of the pan into the bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat; add in spinach and cook until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes, max: don’t kill it. Transfer into bowl with vegetables and add gremolata: toss to evenly distribute it. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts, and serve.

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  • Reply John / Kitchen Riffs April 17, 2019 at 10:13 am

    Our mint isn’t really producing yet, so it’d be parsley for me. Love veggies at this time of the year, and this looks amazing. As to ham vs lamb, I love both! But lamb always is my preference — my favorite red meat. 🙂

    • Reply shannon September 16, 2019 at 9:39 am

      this is a good reminder to me to plan on planting mint for next year: i love it safely grown in a planter box, of course (VINES!) and the smell is so gorgeous when it does start to come in.

  • Reply elizabeth April 18, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Gail! I love this cookbook so much, and I got Michael Lee’s Smoke and Pickles for Christmas a few years back and we really like it so I’ll have to check out Buttermilk Graffiti at the library around the corner. I haven’t tried this one yet because as much as I’ve tried I can’t get into asparagus, but maybe it calls for some revisiting now that peas are starting to look pretty good.

    I don’t think I’ll ever get my parents to even try lamb (because to them, lamb=mutton, even though that’s not the case at all) but we’re making it for my in-laws this year again. M does such a good job on it that his mom, usually a red-meat-eschewer, helps herself to some.

    • Reply shannon September 16, 2019 at 9:38 am

      note how I’m answering this like, 6 months late *ugh* and how it has no bearing on how much i love you. Smoke and Pickles is FABULOUS: i love his take on food and his personality in general. Asparagus is definitely a love or hate type of thing: it can be gross, and i don’t fault those who aren’t super into it.

      What scares everyone about lamb? maybe it is the lamb (does not actually) = mutton thing, but that’s just not accurate, you’re right. that’s like saying veal = beef when they’re actually worlds apart. Someday i’ll force a lamb leg on everyone. 🙂

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