Alex Guarnaschelli was called the Susan Lucci of "The Next Iron Chef" on Twitter recently. It didn't bother her. "She's had a long and fruitful career!" Alex told us this week as she debuted some holiday-ready nut-centric recipes.
Alex, the chef at New York's Butter and The Darby, says she often snacks on nuts to keep herself from chowing down on chips and some of her 5-year-old daughter's other favorite treats. Plus, she says, growing up in an Italian family meant holidays full of baked Ziti and other heavy fare, so adding nuts to veggie dishes adds some richness without being overwhelming.
Oh, and if you've watched Alex as a judge on "Chopped," you might not believe that she's warm and friendly and actually smiles. "I'm actually really nurturing to the contestants," she says. We're going to blame the editing.
Asparagus with Walnuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup Fisher® Walnut Halves, lightly chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
The juice from 1-2 lemons
1 pound fairly thin “pencil” asparagus, ends trimmed and discarded, cut into 2 inch pieces
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
- Heat a medium skillet and add the oil. When it gets hot (but not too hot), add the walnuts and season with salt. They should bubble and fry slightly in the oil. When you can smell the walnuts, add the paprika and cayenne and lower the heat. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Set aside.
- Fill a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and add some cold water. Place a colander squarely inside the ice bath. The colander will keep you from having to pick the asparagus out from amongst the ice cubes in the ice bath. Add salt until the boiling water tastes like seawater. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 - 1 ½ minutes. You want them to be crunchy. If the asparagus are larger, cook for 1 ½ - 2 minutes.
- With a slotted spoon, remove the asparagus from the water and transfer them to the colander inside the ice bath. Move them around gently so the ice water penetrates the asparagus and accelerates the cooling process. Vegetables take longer than you think to cool so allow them to sit a few minutes in the ice water. Hold a piece of the asparagus in your hand for a few seconds to assure that it’s really cool (even in the center). If the piece still feels warm, allow them to cool longer in the ice bath. Place them on a kitchen towel to drain any excess moisture.
- Toss the asparagus in the bowl with the walnuts and the oil. Let this mixture sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the juice from 1 lemon. Add more lemon, if desired. Serve immediately.