Asparagus – it’s not a boring vegetable

Published 12:01am Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sometimes it ran wild along sandy riverbanks and seashores, and in some rural areas the word was corrupted into “sparrow grass,” “spare grass,” or “sparrow guts.”

Thomas Jefferson recorded harvesting asparagus multiple times at Monticello. He described eating it battered and deep-fried and also “in the French way,” presumably in vinaigrette. How to cook asparagus is often discussed more than how to grow it. Even the earliest cookbooks promoted the idea of gently cooking asparagus or “they will lose their little heads.” We have an asparagus bed but it is not as productive as I would like so I will not offer advice on growing

Asparagus, with its versatility and beautiful presentation, is a fresh addition to any springtime meal.
Asparagus, with its versatility and beautiful presentation, is a fresh addition to any springtime meal.

till I can do it better.

Some cooks figure that thin spears are younger and more tender than thick spears, but that is not always true. Some varieties of asparagus are always thin and some are always thick. The key to succulence and good flavor is freshness. Asparagus should be cooked as soon as possible after it is cut, while the heads remain tightly closed and the ends are moist. The difference between green and white asparagus is in how it is raised. White asparagus grows covered by earth or thick tarps that black sunlight so that green chlorophyll cannot form on the plant. The white spears must be peeled, but their tender interiors and subtle flavor make the time and effort worthwhile.

In looking for new recipes, I did find some interesting ideas, which I will share. Perhaps the best is still good fresh asparagus, gently steamed finished with some butter and lemon! Yum!

Here are five new ways with asparagus as given in ‘Food and Wine Magazine’ April 2013:

 

Roasted Asparagus

On a baking sheet, toss 2 pounds asparagus with 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until tender. In a skillet, stir 1/3 cup olive oil with seven anchovy fillets over moderate heat until the anchovies dissolve. Add 2 minced garlic cloves; cook for one minute. Stir in 1 cup of panko and cook until golden. Stir in 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Transfer the asparagus to a platter. Top with the lemon juice and the panko. (I did this recipe and I think you could reduce the anchovy fillets to just three or four or none at all. It is a very pretty dish and tasty).

 

Pickles

Combine 2 pounds of asparagus and six dill sprigs in two large jars. In a saucepan, combine 1 quart distilled white vinegar with 1 quart water, ¼ cup kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 12 dried red chili peppers, 12 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns and 2 tablespoons mustard seeds.

Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar; let cool until lukewarm. Pour over the asparagus; cover and chill overnight for fresh pickles or three days for stronger pickles.

 

Vinaigrette

In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch 1 pound asparagus; transfer to an ice water bath to cool. Drain and chop. In a food processor, pulse the asparagus with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon chopped chives. Blend in ¾ cup canola oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drain through a sieve; discard solids.

 

Pesto

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook ¾ pound spaghetti until al dente; drain, reserving ¼ cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, in a food processor, finely chop 1 pound asparagus; transfer to a bowl. Stir in ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ cup basil leaves and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; season with salt and pepper. Add the hot pasta and cooking water and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

 

Tabbouleh

In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch 1 pound asparagus; transfer to an ice bath to cool. Drain and chop. In a food processor, finely chop the asparagus; transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 cup cooked bulgur wheat, 1 chopped tomato, ¼ cup chopped parsley, 2 sliced scallions, 2 tablespoons chopped mint, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

 

‘Bon Appétit’s , April 2013 issue also had eight ways with asparagus:

Grilled Asparagus with Harissa: Thin harissa with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over grilled asparagus.

Asparagus Salad with Gruyère and Herbs: Shave raw asparagus lengthwise with a peeler; toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and leaves of tender herbs (such as mint, basil, cilantro, and dill). Top with shaved Gruyère; season with salt and pepper.

Potato Salad with Asparagus and Olives: Toss sliced boiled new potatoes with 1” pieces raw asparagus; mixed pitted olives, olive oil, crumbled feta, and crushed red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus and Shiitake Sauté: Sauté chopped scallions, garlic and peeled ginger in vegetable oil. Add shitake caps, 1” pieces raw asparagus, and sliced chilies and sauté until tender. Toss with oyster sauce; cook about 1 minute more.

Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Toasts: Shave raw asparagus lengthwise with a peeler. Season Greek yogurt with toasted caraway seeds; spread over pumpernickel toast. Top with smoked salmon and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus with Fried Eggs: Drizzle steamed asparagus with olive oil. Top with a sunny-side-up egg and shaved Parmesan; season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus with Ricotta Flatbread: Top pizza dough with ricotta, 2” pieces raw asparagus (halved lengthwise if thick), and sliced red onion; drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake at 375 degrees until golden.

Asparagus with Red Quinoa Salad: Toss cooked red quinoa with olive oil, lemon juice, sliced raw asparagus and radishes, cilantro leaves, and toasted walnuts; season with salt and pepper.

With all these different ways to eat asparagus you can certainly enjoy this spring vegetable.

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