Two articles I recently read confirmed what I already knew. Eat more vegetables and use the best tasting ingredients possible when cooking. In the first article, The Cheaters Guide to Living to 1oo, it outlines simple secrets to living longer, healthier and happier. One recommendation is to eat more plant based foods and it sites a British study that showed people who ate seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables lowered their chances of dying from caner or heart disease by a significant percentage. The second article from the Wall Street Journal, How Flavor Drives Nutrition, explains how for the past 50 years, “the food we are growing has been getting blander.” And that we need to spend money on food that has real flavor and tastes good. Well that seems logical enough don’t you think?
Which brings me to my post this week, incorporating the concept of both of these articles in an easy and satisfying weeknight meal. For me, fresh seasonal asparagus is always a welcome sight in the produce section after the winter months of root vegetables and hearty greens. Bite sized pieces of chicken breast and tender cut stalks of asparagus are the basis of the bowl with your choice of quinoa or farro to give a bit of heartiness. Peppery tasting arugula stirred in at the end, along with Pecorino cheese and lemon zest, slightly wilts and adds a lightness to both the texture and flavor.
To speed preparation, start cooking the quinoa or farro, then move on to cutting the vegetables and chicken. Once your skillet is heated, the cooking goes quickly and the quinoa should be ready just in time to stir it in at the end. The little bit of roasted pine nuts sprinkled throughout give just the right amount of crunch and pine flavor. Pine nuts are expensive due to the labor intensive process of removing the nuts from inside of the pine cone and not every grocery store carries them. I tend to buy small amounts and store them in the freezer in an air tight container (because of their fat content they can turn rancid stored at room temperature) so I have them on hand when I need them. True for most nuts, roasting them brings out their flavor.
- 1-1/2 pounds asparagus
- ¾ cup quinoa OR 1 cup farro
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut in bite size pieces
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ¼ cup chopped shallot or green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 5 ounces arugula (this is a typical prepackaged size)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- ¾ cup grated Pecorino cheese
- ⅓ cup roasted pine nuts (see below for roasting)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Trim ends from the asparagus (I do this by taking one stalk and bending it to see where it naturally breaks and then trim the rest the same). Cut asparagus into approximately 1-1/2 inch pieces.
- Cook quinoa or farro: for the quinoa, rinse then combine with 1-1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook just until water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked about 15-20 minutes (makes about 2-1/4 cups). For the farro, rinse then combine with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and cook just until farro is softened but still has a little crunch, about 25 minutes; drain (makes about 2 cups).
- While quinoa or farro are cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet; add chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook without turning until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add asparagus and cook and stir until chicken is cooked through and asparagus is softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add shallots or green onion and garlic and cook and stir just to soften and release flavor, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cooked quinoa or farro, arugula and lemon zest, tossing lightly and cooking just until leaves are slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Add pecorino cheese and pine nuts and toss to evenly combine. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with lemon juice.