Springtime brings all sorts of renewal excitement. Watching things green up and start to sprout out of the ground does amazing things to my mood. It even makes me appreciate the winter months all the more for knowing that the cold and dead means anticipating the warm and coming to life. I have vivid memories of grandma sending the grand kids down to the ditch banks to search for the first signs of asparagus. It was like a treasure hunt! And nothing is quite like those slender, tender, beautifully green, tinged with purple spears. They just taste like spring!
Asparagus can be prepared many ways. My favorite is a simple sauté with a tiny bit of butter, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. Garnish with parmesan and nothing is more simply delicious!
Roasting will bring out the nutty taste and is beautiful as well. Toss the asparagus with a little olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked black pepper, and roast in a hot oven for 8–10 minutes. The most important thing to consider when cooking asparagus is to keep it slightly crisp. Let it retain a little of what makes it such a great spring vegetable: its texture. Nothing is less appealing than mushy asparagus. It’s sad, really. We only get to enjoy really good asparagus for a short time each year. Don’t mush it up!
Chef made a delicious panzanella once that had grilled asparagus alongside a host of other vegetables, but it was the asparagus that stood out. So delicious! Just oil your spears a bit before grilling and watch carefully. They cook quite quickly. Blanch, saute, boil, grill, roast, steam or stir-fry asparagus. All of these methods are great as long as you don’t over cook.
In choosing asparagus, the more slender, the more tender is the general rule. A 1/2 inch in diameter should be your limit. Anything more and you get into tough territory. The tips will still be good, but the further down the spear you go, the woodier the product.
For prep, most people will hold the asparagus spear at each end and carefully bend the spear. Where it snaps is a pretty good place to stop, but I find if the asparagus isn’t too thick, you can get even a little bit more yield by peeling off the outer layer. When asparagus grows past the diameter of a pencil, I’m told it is actually more nutritious, but it is harder to make delicious, as the spears get a little woody the older they grow.The inside is still generally tender. Especially if you are using for a soup and are going to be pureeing. Try the peeling trick, no reason to let those couple of inches go to waste!
Asparagus can be a great appetizer when sautéed or roasted as a whole spear and wrapped in a thin slice of roast beef. Dip in a creamy, lemon-chervil aioli, or drizzle with a balsamic reduction.
Asparagus pairs well with lightly flavored nuts, and seasoned, browned breadcrumbs. Also garlic and mushrooms. Several cheeses will also go nicely: pecorino, parmesan, and mild goat cheeses.
- 2 pounds asparagus–trim top 1 1/2 inch off, peel thick bottoms, cut into 1″ pieces, reserve tips for roasting
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 1/2 cups chopped leek–rinse and drain well if leeks are dirty
- 1/2 tsp thyme. dried or (1 tsp fresh)
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- juice from 1/2 a lime
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/8 tsp cayenne
- parmesan cheese for shaving over the top
- Toss the asparagus tips in a little olive oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper and roast for 8–10 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees F. Set aside for garnish.
- Sauté the chopped onion and leek in butter for 5 minutes with a pinch salt & pepper.
- Add asparagus spears (minus the tips), and cover and cook 8–10 minutes–not looking to brown, just sauté real nice.
- Add 3 cups whole milk and simmer til tender.
- Add the vegetable stock, lime juice, kosher salt, sour cream and cayenne and heat to just boiling. Don’t over-boil or the sour cream will break.
- Puree with a stick blender, or a blender if you don’t have a stick blender. Just be very careful of blending hot liquid.
- Serve with the roasted asparagus tips and a sprinkling of shaved parmesan cheese.
The Secret Life of of a Chef’s Wife 2013