Balsamic quinoa with sautéed asparagus and a creamy pesto-marinara sauce

Impromptu nights with friends are so much fun. When you have an hour to get ready and no one is expecting much, it’s always a great time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. I’m terrible about putting so much effort into every cocktail party that I often lose sight of the reason that I invited my friends over. In my head, all I want to do is sit on the couch and catch up. But when it happens, I’m running around like crazy re-arranging flowers or obsessing over how clean my floor is or stressing over a simple appetizer. I’m the classic Martha in the Mary and Martha story in the Bible – I spend all of my time preparing and none of my time listening!

The only way around this pattern for me is to have unexpected dinner parties. It probably sounds insanely stressful, but I love to play Iron Chef with the random (and when I say random, I mean a tin-of-ostrich-pate random) ingredients in my cupboards. There’s always enough on hand to pull something together. And once that’s done, and my friends arrive, I feel “off the hook” for not having a perfectly put together home and I’m finally able to enjoy myself. So please, by all means, shoot me a text when you’re five minutes away and invite yourself over for happy hour. 

We had one of these nights on Friday. We had planned on meeting some friends out before heading to Crystal Bridges Art Infusion event (which was a fantastic event, by the way). But, with different arrival times and the steep price of the restaurants on the square, Husband suggested inviting everyone to our house before the event. I initially panicked, but we pulled together a great little happy hour with some wine, a cheese board, and a couple of dips. One of those dips was the creamy pesto-marinara that I used in a sauce in today’s leftover meal recipe. 

This is not a recipe that I even planned on sharing. It’s a leftover concoction that I put together out of sheer laziness the desire not to waste anything. We (the royal we; Husband does the grilling around here) grilled a pork tenderloin earlier in the week and needed to do something with the delicious, flavorful remaining third or so of the meat. I think you could use pretty much any leftover meat in this dish – chicken, steak, pork, shrimp, whatever, or you could always omit. The flavor doesn’t come from the meat so much as it does from the delicious asparagus and the creamy pesto-marinara sauce. I’m calling it a “sauce” in the recipe to make it sound like a more normal meal. It’s really leftover dip and is fantastic when you have no time at all and want to make something indulgent to spread on crackers. 

Balsamic quinoa with sautéed asparagus and a creamy pesto-marinara sauce

For the quinoa, you will need:

  • 2 cups water and 1 low-sodium chicken bouillon cube, or 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tsp. olive oil 
  • 1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Quinoa method:

  • Heat 2 cups of water with 1 chicken bouillon cube and the rinsed quinoa to boil. 
  • Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 15-20 minutes. 
  • When quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and let rest for five additional minutes. 
  • Stir in 1 tsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. fresh parsley

For the saute, you will need:

  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 6-8 fresh asparagus stalks, trimmed
  • 1 – 2 cups leftover meat, any kind 
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Italian spice blend (or a mix of dried basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and thyme)
  • 8 cherry or cherub tomatoes (any mini tomato)
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Saute method:

  • Heat olive oil and garlic in a large skillet on medium-high heat for three minutes. 
  • Add in asparagus and lemon juice. Cook for five minutes, then stir in leftover meat and spice blend. Cook for an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring carefully (you don’t want them to burst) for five more minutes. 
  • Serve hot on top of quinoa, topped with creamy pesto-marinara sauce. 

For the creamy pesto-marinara sauce, you will need:

  • 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. each sea salt and black pepper
  • Dash red pepper flakes, optional

Sauce method:

  • Preheat the oven to 350. 
  • Stir all ingredients together in a bowl. Transfer to a 9×9 oven-safe cooking dish. 
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheeses are bubbling. 
  • Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Stir mixture to evenly distribute as needed. 
  • Serve hot, as a dip with pita chips or baguette. 
  • Reserve 1/4 cup or so to stir into the veggie saute, if desired. 
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