The Always Amazing (and now afordable) Asparagus

            Available, affordable (for now) and incredibly versatile asparagus is often considered the quintessential spring vegetable. With spring just beginning ‘NOW” seemed like a great time to indulge. Serve it hot or cold depending on your mood it only takes about 10 minutes to wash it, cook it and eat it.

Eating asparagus is really good for you. Five spears contain only 20 calories, have 400 milligrams of potassium are a great source of folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins A, C and B6.  While most asparagus is green, the purple and white varieties are becoming increasingly popular. White asparagus is created by growing the stalks under mounds of earth so they don’t produce chlorophyll (hummm Albino asparagus?) Although more tender than the green variety, in my opinion, white asparagus has a somewhat bland flavor. It is also WAY more expensive than the green variety. When choosing asparagus you should look for thin, medium-sized spears that is firm and green (except for the white asparagus) with tightly closed tips. Avoid asparagus with wrinkled stalks and wilted tips

            When you store your asparagus wrap the bottom of the stalks in a damp paper towel and put everything it a plastic bag. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.  As an alternative, trim the bottom of the spears and stand them, covered, in a glass container, in an inch of water, in the refrigerator, for a few days

To prepare your asparagus for cooking take each spear by its ends and bend it gently.  It will snap at approximately where tenderness begins.  You can save the stem ends (freeze them) or pitch them. If the stalks are at all thick, peel the portion of the stalk below the tip with a vegetable peeler so that the tips and the stalk cook evenly.

       This year, with a bumper crop available I’m planning on “stalking” the asparagus and trying as many new recipes as time and my waist line permit. The following tips and recipes should help you join me in the hunt.

 

Cleaning and Cooking Tips:

Soak the asparagus in cold water for several minutes. Swish it to remove dirt and grit.

To boil, tie the asparagus in bundles (this makes them easy to remove all at once) and immerse in boiling, salted water. Blanch for about 10 minutes, or just until tender. Remove bundles immediately, remove strings, and keep warm.

If using an asparagus cooker or tall pot, tie and stand the asparagus upright with the spears above water, then cover and cook just until the stalks are tender but still firm.

To microwave, arrange the spears in a round baking dish with the tips toward the center. Add 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and cook on HIGH (100% power) for 8 minutes or until crisp-tender, rotating the dish a half turn after about 4 minutes.

If using asparagus in a cold dish, plunge into cold water immediately after cooking.

Avoid cooking asparagus in an iron pot. Asparagus contains tannins which react on contact with iron, altering the vegetable’s color.

 

ASPARAGUS APPLE AND CHICKEN SALAD

This is a great main course salad that helps make left over chicken or turkey

1 cup fresh asparagus cut in 1 inch pieces

2 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 teaspoon honey

2 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup cubed cooked chicken or turkey

1/2 cup diced red apple

2 cups torn mixed greens

1/2 to 1 cup toasted slivered almonds

Cook asparagus in a small amount of water until tender crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes; drain and cool. In a bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, honey parsley, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine and then add the chicken, apple, almonds and asparagus. Toss the mixture to coat it with the dressing. Serve immediately over greens.  Serves 4. This recipe can be doubled or tripled

ASPARAGUS MARINARA WITH FETTUCCINI

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup minced onion

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped, 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 pound Asparagus; cut into 1″ pieces, tips separated

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 to 4 teaspoons sugar, to taste

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Fettuccine; or other pasta, cooked, drained and kept warm

In a large skillet heat the olive oil for 2 minutes and then add the garlic and onions. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes over a medium heat and then add the crushed tomatoes and basil. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the cut asparagus but not tips. Simmer the asparagus in the sauce until tender and then add the tips. Cook 3 to 4 more minutes and then add the white wine and sugar. and salt and pepper. Serve over hot pasta. Serves 4

ASPARAGUS PARMESAN TART

This versatile quiche can be served a brunch, lunch as a quick dinner or a simple appetizer.

1 uncooked ready made pie crust room temperature or 1 recipe of homemade

1 teaspoon flour

1 lb. asparagus, each spear trimmed to 3″

1 cup half and half

2 eggs

1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450.  Bake the pie crust till golden, about 15 min.  Cool on rack.  Reduce oven temperature to 375.  Cook asparagus in boiling salted water till just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes.  Drain well. Place the asparagus on paper towels and pat it dry. In a bowl combine the half & half, eggs, cheese, tarragon and salt and pepper.  Arrange asparagus in spoke-of-wheel fashion in crust, tips toward edge and ends meeting in center.  Pour the egg mixture gently over the asparagus and return the filled crust to the oven.  Bake till tart puffs and top browns, about 35 minutes.  Cool slightly to set and serve. Serves 4

ASPARAGUS AND PISTACHIOS

3 lbs. asparagus

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon marjoram

1 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Cook the asparagus, uncovered, in boiling water until just barely tender when pierced, 5-8 minutes. Drain and place it on a serving platter.

In a sauce pan melt the butter or margarine and add the lemon juice, marjoram and nuts until the mixture is sizzling. Immediately pour the mixture over asparagus and serve. Serves 8

ASPARAGUS AVOCADO WRAPS

These are fabulous as a quick lunch, easy dinner or simple appetizer

24 spears asparagus, cooked crisp tender and cooled and patted dry

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried parsley

1 1/2 cups cooked cold white rice

3 tablespoons plain yogurt or mayonnaise

3 whole wheat tortillas, 10 inches in diameter

1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

In a small bowl combine the avocado, lime juice, parsley and garlic. Mash to combine into a coarse puree. Set the mixture aside. In another small bowl, combine the together the rice and yogurt or mayonnaise and mix to mix well.

Heat the tortillas for 10 seconds in the microwave to soften them. Lay the tortillas flat the cutting board. Spread the avocado mixture equally among the tortillas. Top each tortilla with an equal amount of the rice mixture, asparagus, cilantro, and onion.  Fold in both sides and the bottom of each tortilla up over the filling; then roll to close. If made in advance, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 hour. Return to room temperature before serving. To serve, cut each wrap in half crosswise. Makes 6 servings

SIZZLING HOT ASPARAGUS AND SHRIMP (or MOCK CRAB) SALAD

1 pound asparagus, trimmed, and blanched to crisp tender

1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon red onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 to 2 teaspoons pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
1 pound cooked and peeled shrimp (or mock crab if you keep kosher)

In a bowl combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, parsley, red onion. Whisk to combine and set aside Heat the oil in a skillet and add the garlic and asparagus. Cook until heated turning frequently to prevent the asparagus and garlic from burning. When the asparagus is hot, add the shrimp, stirring constantly until the shrimp warm. Spoon the shrimp asparagus mixture in a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over the top, toss to coat and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

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