It’s an open secret among everyone who has been there that my family’s cottage in West Michigan is the happiest place on earth. As we head into our twelfth summer season, the dock and boat are officially in the water, I’ve called dibs on a weekend for the debauchery of Cottage Weekend ’11 with my friends, and plane tickets have been purchased for my bestie to join in the annual Fourth of July celebration. It’s going to be a golden three months.
Among the many pleasures of the cottage, up there, food and drink are blissfully simple. If you run out of beer (and shame on you for your poor planning), just drive the boat down to the public beach, and wade in across the park to the store. There is a winery, a honey farm, a working dairy with an ice cream shop, and two excellent butchers, where you have to drive past fields of grazing cattle to reach the retail store- all within a 15 mile radius. But, even amongst that bounty, the produce really is king. Whether you prefer your sour cherries with a side of country-cute tchotchkes and homemade pie at a three-walled farmstand, or like me, shop old school at a plywood bench in someone’s yard with an honor-system lockbox, what to make for dinner is primarily determined by what you can pick up on the drive home from breakfast.
Strawberries in June, sweet corn at the fourth of July, peaches and tomatoes in August, apples in the fall- I’ve been eating locally all summer long since before I knew what that meant. It happens that the cottage is situated in the middle of The Asparagus Capital of the World, so when I went up last weekend to help my dad open the place for the season, I seized the opportunity to pick up some of Oceana County’s finest. From a plastic bucket in someone’s front yard, naturally. A brief stop at Whole Foods for some goat cheese, and the two recipes below unfolded easily.
Asparagus, lemon, and goat cheese are a classic pairing, and the addition of a bunch of spinach ups the green factor in this Farmer’s Pasta. Served warm, the goat cheese melts slightly, creating a creamy sauce for the pasta; cold, it resembles a traditional pasta salad, but is equally delicious both ways.
1 cup orzo
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 farmer’s market sized bunch asparagus (1/2 lb), trimmed and cut in 2-3 inch pieces
1 farmer’s market bag of spinach, large stems removed
1 large lemon, juiced
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
Fresh ground pepper
Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to boil. Salt the water, and cook orzo until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside in a large bowl.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil and sauté garlic. Add the asparagus and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach. When wilted, remove from heat and add vegetables to the bowl with pasta.
Pour the lemon juice over the pasta and vegetables, sprinkle the goat cheese over the pasta and toss. Add fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.
Of course, I didn’t stop at one pound of asparagus. When asparagus is in season, I make it a point to eat enough over the course of a month to tide me over until the next year. Don’t be afraid of the potato- this pizza is perfectly balanced, and even better the next day. Trader Joe’s pizza dough works well here, although if it’s a weekend and you’re feeling ambitious, homemade would be even better.
Asparagus, Potato & Goat Cheese Pizza
Adapted from Epicurious
5 ounces fingerling or small Yukon Gold potatoes
Cornmeal (for sprinkling)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
6 ounces grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/3 cup)
4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, each spear cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2- to 3-inch pieces
Fresh ground pepper
Place potatoes in small saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch and salt the water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and thinly slice potatoes.
Preheat oven to 450°. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic in small bowl and set aside. Sprinkle pizza stone, cast iron skillet, or baking sheet with cornmeal. Stretch pizza dough into an oval on the stone/skillet/baking sheet, and brush garlic oil over dough. Sprinkle green onions over, then grated mozzarella, leaving a 1/2-inch border of crust. Layer potato slices, and sprinkle with goat cheese. Scatter asparagus over pizza. Drizzle remaining tablespoon of olive oil over pizza, and top with salt and pepper.
Bake pizza until crust is browned and asparagus is tender and slightly charred on top, about 18 minutes. Use a pizza peel or large spatula to transfer to cutting board. Slice, and enjoy!