Eric Akis: It’s sweet to eat a supper made for two

Eric AkisIn a retirement mecca such as Victoria, with so many the-kids-are-gone couples living here, it’s not surprising I get requests for recipes that serve two.

Today, I happily answer that call and offer three such recipes that all incorporate an in-season ingredient, asparagus. All three recipes are easy to make, but are still full of flavour and colour.

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The first is a pasta dish where spaghetti is tossed with slices of asparagus and small, bright-pink shrimp. Accenting the taste of those three ingredients are garlic, lemon, basil and Parmesan cheese. Serve the pasta with a simple green salad.

The second recipe is a stir-fry where pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast are seared and then removed from the pan. Then, in the pan goes some sliced asparagus, red bell pepper, ginger and garlic and all get quickly cooked. Adding liquids, primarily Thai-style sweet chili sauce, a mildly spicy mixture sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets, makes a sauce for the dish.

The chicken is returned to the pan with green onion, simmered a bit, and voilà, a tasty chicken dish is created that you can serve over rice and compliment with ice-cold beer or a glass of sparkling limeade.

To make the latter, fill a tall glass about a fifth full with fresh lime juice sweetened with sugar to taste, which you stir in until completely dissolved. Then, fill the glass half full with ice cubes and top it up with club soda or other sparking water. If desired, you could also swirl a few fresh mint leaves into the drink.

My last recipe is a main-course salad that would be perfect to serve for lunch on a warm spring day, perhaps with rosé wine. To make it, you arrange ripe tomato slices in a circular fashion on two dinner plates. The tomatoes get topped with baby salad greens, blanched slices of asparagus, nuggets of tangy goat cheese and some salty olives.

Rather than making a dressing, I decided instead to simply drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic crema, reduced balsamic vinegar with a lovely sweet and sour taste. Each salad is then sprinkled with a bit of orange zest, salt and pepper.

If you were serving more than two, each of today’s recipes could certainly be expanded as needed. Happy cooking!

 

Spaghetti with Shrimp and Asparagus

Pasta for two adorned with asparagus and shrimp and flavoured with lemon, garlic, basil and cheese.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 12 minutes

Makes: Two servings

 

175 to 200 grams spaghetti

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (divided)

10 asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

100 grams cooked salad shrimp

1 Tbsp lemon juice

• freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

• salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

 

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about eight to 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and cook and stir until bright green, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds more.

When the pasta is cooked, add 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water and the shrimp to the pan and bring to a simmer. Drain the pasta and add it, and then lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and basil to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Divide the pasta between two bowls or plates. Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil; sprinkle with lemon zest. Serve with more freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

 

Sweet Thai Chili Chicken and Asparagus Stir-fry

Have all your ingredients cut and ready before making this quick-cooking chicken dish. Serve it over steamed rice.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes

Makes: Two servings

 

4 tsp vegetable oil

1 (9 oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut 1/2-inch cubes

6 asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch long pieces

1/2 medium red bell pepper, cubed

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/3 to 1/2 cup Thai-style sweet chili sauce

2 Tbsp water or stock

2 to 3 tsp soy sauce

2 to 3 tsp fresh lime juice

2 green onions, sliced into 1 1/2-inch pieces

 

Place the oil in a large, non-stick skillet or wok set over medium-high heat. When hot, add chicken and stir-fry three to four minutes, until just cooked through. Lift the chicken out of the pan and set on a plate.

Add the asparagus, bell pepper, ginger and garlic to the pan and stir-fry two minutes. Add the sweet chili sauce, water (or stock), soy sauce and lime juice and bring to a simmer. Return chicken to the pan and cook two minutes more. Toss in the green onions and serve.

 

Asparagus, Tomato, Goat Cheese and Olive Salad

Make a lovely and appealing lunch by serving this main-course salad with baguette and rosé wine. Balsamic crema is reduced balsamic vinegar found at specialty stores and in the deli or vinegar aisle of supermarkets.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: two servings

 

2 medium ripe on-the-vine tomatoes, thinly sliced

3 to 4 cups baby salad greens

8-10 asparagus spears, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and blanched

10 to 12 black olives

50 grams soft goat cheese, pulled into small nuggets

• extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic crema, to taste

1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Make a ring of tomato slices on each of two dinner plates. Mound salad greens in the centre of each plate. Top salad greens with asparagus, olives and goat cheese. Lightly drizzle each salad, to taste, with olive oil and balsamic crema. Sprinkle with orange zest, salt and pepper and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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