Spring = Lemons

By: 
Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you want something healthy, something will get in your way. It could be an unexpected lengthy phone call that lasts until your gym closes. It could be a sick dog. It could be a twisted ankle. It could be the store is out of apples. It could be an e. coli outbreak that you learned about while scrolling through Twitter just after enjoying an enormous salad complete with romaine lettuce so now you have to worry about possible food poisoning and the only thing you want for dinner is Caesar salads with grilled chicken for the next several days.

Yeah. That last one was me. It’s still me, and it’s a very new phenomenon. I never thought I’d want lettuce like this. Just goes to show you don’t know what you have until the CDC tells you it’s gone.

Now that spring has finally decided to join us, I’ve found myself wanting food that reflects that. I’m looking for lighter foods after a winter of pot roasts and potatoes and pasta bakes and things designed to warm you from the inside out.

Y’all. It’s time for lemon everything. And this is another “twofer.”

I’ve said it before — I don’t like pasta salad. I don’t like cold, slimy pasta with cold dressing, especially if it’s sweet or creamy. It’s just entirely unappealing. But this Lemony Artichoke Pasta Salad is appropriately vibrant thanks to the lemon and not at all sweet and, as there’s no hard and fast rule that it has to be eaten cold, it doesn’t get too slimy, even though the dressing is oil-based.

Ali, who writes Gimme Some Oven and this recipe used gemelli, but I couldn’t find it, partly because you can only ask a grocery store to carry so many types of pasta and partly because I wasn’t willing to spend a lot of time looking for a specific type of pasta when, really, just about any type would work. I went with casarecce pasta, which look like slightly twisty, long S’s. I also couldn’t find the pine nuts. I’ve never bought them before and due to the aforementioned time crunch, I wasn’t eager to schlep all over Walmart looking for them. I’m guessing they would have added a little crunch to this salad and I’m hoping I didn’t miss out on too much for not having them. I saw a picture of a shopping cart somewhere with a digital store index with locations for items you typed in and that would be so handy sometimes.

I started by cooking the pasta and began chopping the asparagus and artichokes while the water boiled. I have to say, the only way I’ve encountered artichokes before was on pizza at Topp’t in New Albany and in spinach and artichoke dip and I did not realize how bad canned artichoke hearts smelled. Fortunately, that smell dissipates and doesn’t affect this salad (I don’t ordinarily refer to this sort of thing as salad, but as I’m currently unwilling to risk my digestive health for leaf vegetables, this is as close as I’ll get).

I also made the dressing by combining the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and herbs together and then realized my pasta was overcooking.

Things turned out OK and while that pasta was draining, I sauteed the chopped asparagus with garlic (I used pre-minced instead of sliced because I’m very, very lazy). Once the pasta was drained, I dumped it into a mixing bowl with the dressing, stirring it up to keep the pasta from sticking together and added the chopped artichokes, then the asparagus, and stirred to combine. Then I added some grated (not shredded because not in this economy am I buying two types of the same cheese) parmesan. Thanks to the cheese and the pasta absorbing the flavor of the dressing without getting slippery, this didn’t become what I most hate about pasta salad.

But what to serve with it? My spring food craving meant that even chicken was too heavy. Fish, though, would work. Tilapia is both cheap and versitile and I’ve blogged about tilapia recipes before. This one might be the easiest and with the lemon and parmesan cheese involved, ties nicely with the pasta salad.

This Breadcrumb-Crusted Tilapia from Four to Cook For is very simple and comes together in about 15 minutes or so, so it’s great to make fresh to go with that leftover pasta salad (if there is any) the next day.

Combine some Italian-style breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder and parmesan cheese and coat the fish. If you can’t get it to stick well, you can get it wet with water or, if you’re me, you use lemon juice, and try breading the fish again. Lay the fillets out on a foiled baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Add some sliced lemons and pop it in the oven to bake at 400ºF. The size of your fillets will determine how long you’ll need to bake them. Mine were fairly small (the recipe calls for five large fillets and I cut the recipe down), so mine only took about 10 minutes before they were flaky. Broil the fish for a minute or two if you want a more golden crust.

Because I’m a lemon fiend, I added more to the fish after it finished baking, but the texture remained crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside. The next night, I added lemon pepper seasoning to the leftover breadcrumb mixture and did this again and it was equally fantastic. Simple is almost always better.

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