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Take time to dress up fresh asparagus

Asparagus is surely one of the first signs of spring. I can eat it any way – just like I can oysters. Nothing is more exciting than to see its delicate shoots rising from the ground. My husband has brought in his first spears of asparagus, and they are yummy.

Peeling asparagus takes a certain delicacy and know-how. It is best to peel just before cooking – certainly no longer than two hours in advance; any more and the asparagus can turn yellow and develop a stringy outer skin. Use a good sharp vegetable peeler to avoid bruising or breaking. I use one with a swivel blade. Hold the asparagus about 30 degrees from the horizontal when peeling.

Wash the peeled asparagus in cold water, drain, trim to a uniform length and tie into bundles. Roll the asparagus in a damp towel and keep it cool until you are ready to cook it.

The most common method for cooking asparagus is to poach it in amply salted boiling water. This takes only a few minutes, but it does depend upon the size and freshness. There is really no reason to stand asparagus up when cooking. If the asparagus is fresh the stalks will cook as quick as the tips. An asparagus steamer is good, simply because it can help you remove the asparagus without damaging the tips.

Using a skewer to grill uncooked asparagus is delicious. Grilling will let the asparagus grow nice and tender and yet remain slightly bitter. The recipe below tells how to grill the asparagus.

Asparagus is good served cold or hot. If served cold, cool the asparagus in ice water immediately after cooking. Do not let asparagus sit in water, because this will damage both texture and flavor. Tongs are great to remove the asparagus quickly.

Asparagus is good just served with a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper. A good sauce is terrific on it also.

These recipes dress up asparagus with little extra effort. Just give them a try—and remember asparagus is good for you.

These recipes are from Roger Vergé’s Vegetables in the French Style.

SKEWERED GRILLED ASPARAGUS

4 servings

40 thick asparagus spears

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup olive oil

Several fresh savory sprigs (Use thyme leaves if you cannot find savory)

Peel, wash and drain the asparagus; cut the tips to about 4 inches in length; save the stalks for a soup or a purée. Spread the asparagus tips on a plate and sprinkle with salt (this will tenderize them and make them less brittle).

Preheat the grill or broiler to a moderate temperature.

Skewer the asparagus tips in groups of five, using skewers 1-inch apart to make it easier to handle them. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil, then broil them or grill for two or three minutes; turn and cook another two or three minutes.

Meanwhile, gently warm the remaining olive oil with some of the savory (or thyme) in a skillet or baking dish. When the asparagus is done, dip both sides in this scented oil.

Arrange the skewers on a serving platter, season with freshly ground pepper, sprinkle with more of the herb-scented oil, and garnish with a few sprigs of savory (or thyme).

ASPARAGUS-TIP FRITTERS

2 servings

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup cold beer

16 medium asparagus spears

1 quart corn or peanut oil for frying

Salt

Whisk together the flour and beer to make a batter about the consistency of crêpe batter.

Peel, wash, and drain the asparagus. Cut the tips to about 4 inches in length; again save the stalks for a soup.

Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Thoroughly coat the asparagus tips with batter and carefully slip them into the hot oil. Fry for three to four minutes, then turn the fritters. When golden brown, drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

ASPARAGUS QUICHE

4 servings

For the pastry:

½ cup cold butter

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Salt

16 medium asparagus spears

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped chives

Make the pastry. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, blend it into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender, then add the egg and salt. Form the dough into a ball, flatten it slightly, wrap it in a towel and refrigerate for one hour.

Roll the dough into a circle and line an 8-inch tart pan; trim away any excess pastry. Prick the bottom with the tines of a fork, and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

Peel the asparagus, wash it, and cut it into 3/8-inch lengths. Bring 1 quart of salted water to the boil, then blanch the asparagus for about two minutes. Plunge immediately into cold water and drain well.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the eggs and cream; season with salt and pepper and add the chives.

Arrange the asparagus on the pastry; pour the cream mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes or until set and lightly browned at the edges.

Let the quiche rest for a few minutes before serving.

Braising is another way to get the best taste out of asparagus. This is from Patricia Well’s book Vegetable Harvest.

ASPARAGUS BRAISED WITH FRESH ROSEMARY AND BAY LEAVES

4 servings

16 plump spears (about 2 pounds) fresh white or green asparagus

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Several sprigs fresh rosemary

Several bay leaves, preferably fresh

Rinse the asparagus and trim the rough ends. In a skillet large enough to hold the asparagus in a single layer, combine the oil, asparagus, salt, rosemary, and bay leaves. Sprinkle with several tablespoons of cold water. Cover. Cook over high heat until the oil and water mixture begins to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and braise the asparagus, turning from time to time, just until the vegetable begins to brown in spots, eight to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the asparagus). Serve immediately. This has only 68 calories per serving.