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Getting ready for asparagus

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

ROASTED ASPARAGUS With Parmesan cheese is a true oldie, but goodie — and a breeze to prepare.

By SARAH SINNING

From GRIT magazine

As one of the most delectable harbingers of spring, asparagus spears will soon be poking up along fence lines and in gardens, to grace supper tables once again.

And it’s about time, right? Before we know it, farmers’ markets will be full of all those tenderly succulent delicacies we’ve been craving for far too long, and asparagus – that favorite little spear – will be among those leading the pack.

Here are a few simple asparagus recipes to help readers take advantage of the bounty.

WITH ITS BRIGHT, rich flavor, this asparagus pesto is a great accompaniment to pan-roasted chicken breast.

But don’t be deceived by their simplicity; less is truly more whenever asparagus is the star.

Shaved asparagus and radish salad with warm bacon

vinaigrette

When most people think about their favorite asparagus dishes, a raw preparation doesn’t generally come to mind.

Although a classically trained chef, I could even count myself among those numbers – that is, until I started farming a few years back and had the opportunity to taste asparagus as it was meant to be eaten – right out of the soil.

RAW, SHAVED ASPARAGUS makes the perfect base for this incredible asparagus salad recipe.

Once the woody part of the stem is removed, the tips are delicately sweet with just a hint of nuttiness – the perfect base for a light spring salad.

Yields 4 generous servings.

2 bunches asparagus

8 to 10 small red radishes

5 slices bacon

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Remove woody ends from asparagus by holding each stalk and then bending in half until it breaks naturally. This is the best way to make sure you’re only using the tender part of the stalk.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave each stalk, starting with the tip and proceeding toward the broken end. Left intact, the tips add to the texture and overall attractiveness of the dish.

Place asparagus in large bowl with thinly slice radishes. Place in bowl with asparagus and set aside.

In large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool.

Do not discard bacon drippings.

Pour 3 tablespoons bacon fat into small saucepan that has been placed over low heat.

Add vinegar, sugar, Dijon mustard and a pinch each of Kosher salt and black pepper, then whisk to emulsify dressing.

Pour dressing over asparagus and radishes. Crumble bacon on top and toss to combine.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as desired.

This salad is best served immediately, as the bacon fat will solidify if allowed to cool too much.

Make a meal out of it by serving with crusty bread and/or a fried egg on top.

Asparagus pesto

Everyone knows the traditional basil pesto, that beloved sauce of the summer garden. But what if you get a hankerin’ for garden-fresh pesto in early spring?

Well, rather than pine away for an ingredient that’s still months away, why not get creative and replace it with what you do have?

Asparagus, it turns out, is a wonderful substitution for basil in this classic sauce.

Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Kosher salt

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed and tender tips cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is ideal)

Black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt water liberally.

Remember, the rule of thumb when cooking pasta or blanching vegetables is to make your water as salty as the sea.

Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Remove asparagus to prepared ice bath – ice water in large bowl – to stop the cooking process.

Meanwhile, roast garlic cloves, removed from bulb, but still in paper, by placing in dry pan over medium heat.

Once bulbs become soft to touch and slightly brown, about 10 minutes, remove and peel.

Place asparagus, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and pinch of black pepper into a food processor bowl.

Turn on motor and begin chopping/mixing process. With motor running, slowly pour in enough olive oil so sauce comes together; start with 1/4 cup.

Stop motor, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary.

Add lemon juice, and then adjust seasoning by adding additional salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed; pulse a few more times to combine.

Serve with pasta and a few lightly steamed asparagus spears, or with chicken, fish or even steak.

Roasted asparagus

with Parmesan

Last, but definitely not least, is an oldie but goodie. This classic roasted asparagus side dish was a favorite in my family, and I’m sure it will become one in yours.

Not only is it incredibly easy to prepare, its simplicity is what makes it so special. The tender tips become golden and crispy in a matter of minutes, and the salty bite of the Parmesan adds just the right amount of richness.

Yields 2 generous servings.

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is ideal)

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In large bowl, toss asparagus in olive oil to coat.

Place on baking sheet and roast in oven until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and top with generous portion of Parmesan; season with salt and pepper as desired.

Since Parmesan is a rather salty cheese, go light on additional salt.

You can always add more at the end.

Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted and starts to brown.

Easy frittata recipe

It doesn’t get much simpler – or tastier – than the classic frittata recipe. Preparation is key.

Once you have your leeks washed and sliced, your asparagus tips cut into bite-sized pieces, and your eggs broken and thoroughly whisked, there isn’t much more to do than sit back and let it cook.

OK, maybe there are a few more steps, but nothing that would deter you from making this frittata a favorite brunch or weeknight supper staple.

Yields 4 generous servings

1 bunch asparagus

1 pound leeks (before tops discarded, about 2 medium)

8 eggs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces goat cheese

Remove woody ends from asparagus and cut remaining tips into 1- to 2-inch pieces; set aside.

Remove tough, fibrous green tops from leeks by cutting at point where leaves begin to branch out and darken in color.

Cut remaining stalks in half lengthwise and then thinly slice. Submerge freshly cut leeks in water bath, making sure to agitate enough for all sediment to be washed away.

This step is especially important due to the considerable amount of grit leeks hold between their layers.

Set aside in separate bowl. Next, crack eggs into large bowl, then add kosher salt, black pepper and dill, and whisk thoroughly; set aside.

Preheat oven to broil.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat; add olive oil so bottom of pan is thoroughly coated.

Add leeks and additional pinch of salt, and saute until soft and golden.

Depending on size of pan, you may need to start with half the leeks, allowing them to cook down and start to brown before adding the rest, since too many leeks in pan will steam rather than fry.

(Remember, brownness equals flavor.)

Add asparagus tips, and saute for a few minutes longer.

Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Add leeks and asparagus to egg mixture. Add goat cheese in small pinches. Stir well to combine.

Return pan to medium-high heat and pour in egg mixture. If using non-stick skillet, no additional oil is necessary; otherwise, add another tablespoon oil or butter before adding eggs.

Cook until sides start to firm up and center just starts to bubble, about 5 minutes.

Move pan to oven and broil for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until eggs are completely set and top is golden brown.

Serve alone or with a simple side salad and homemade bread.

Excerpted from GRIT, Celebrating rural America since 1882.

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