I am fascinated by foods, such as asparagus, that withstand the test of time and trends. Its existence in the Mediterranean during ancient times secured its popularity with ancient Greeks and Romans, and early Egyptians. The Greeks named the sprouting green for its tendency to be the first to shoot up from the ground each spring. The same goes for asparagus today, since we all know that its arrival in our local market means spring is here!
Since each recipe uses asparagus that has been trimmed and cleaned in the same manner, I am explaining that process ahead of time. I’m sure you can solicit equally sage asparagus-related advice from the manager of your local produce department. Be selective when shopping for asparagus. Just like cut flowers, once trimmed from the plant, asparagus will begin to dry, wilt, and fade. Look at the bottom of the spear to see if the end is freshly cut or if it is dried out. The thickness of each spear matters less than the freshness.
Once you’ve chosen your favorite bunch of asparagus, you should pamper it a bit. Asparagus reminds me of African Violets, which are often thought to be a challenge, but really they take care of themselves. Just as you leave water for the violets to drink, you need to provide water for the asparagus to replenish its lost moisture. I always place the bottom ends (not the tips) into a jar with almost an inch of water, and cover them with a plastic bag. If the asparagus is bunched nicely, you can just as easily place it standing in a bowl. Either way, refrigerate the spears in the warmest part of the fridge for up to two days. Nothing horrible will happen after two days (they won’t turn poisonous), but the flavor will deteriorate and the texture will be tougher. I recommend the warmest part of the fridge because sometimes there are very cold sections that reach frosty temperatures. After all, asparagus sprouts after the last frost to avoid such unpleasantness.
Preparing the spears for cooking is fairly simple. Some cooks slice off the bottom portion, but I prefer to let the asparagus tell me where it needs to be trimmed. To do this, hold the top half of an asparagus spear in one hand and the bottom half between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Bend the spear gently until it breaks. The spear will snap where the tough part of the stalk begins. You can break all the spears individually, or cut the rest about the same length as the one you have broken. The ends can be used to make vegetable stock or added to your compost.
There is nothing more quintessentially spring than asparagus (and crocus buds) so enjoy these dishes while dining on your porch, deck, or patio. In Italian, “primavera” means “spring” so Pasta Primavera will make an excellent addition to your springtime dinner table. Don’t keep this just for spring since this dish can be served any time of the year with different types of seasonal produce. A vegetable twist on the popular appetizer, Asparagus in a Blanket is something I whipped up by accident one evening. By the next day, it was declared a new favorite. It is amazingly sturdy and can stay delicious and inviting on a buffet table for a few hours. Roast Asparagus Spears can be a pleasant side dish to almost any main course and it’s vegan. The recipe itself is straightforward not needing any additional sauce or dressing before serving. With these delicious recipes and a fresh bundle of asparagus, you can hold your very own asparagus festival, much like the one that took place in Stockton, California, this past weekend. Though I can imagine your festival will be much easier to clean up.
8 ounces of your favorite pasta (penne, linguine, angel hair, farfalle, etc…)
1 pound asparagus spears, cleaned and trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup shredded parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Start boiling water to cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.
2. Fill a medium pot halfway and bring it to boil. Once it has reached a rolling boil, gently slip the asparagus spears into the water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes only. Turn heat off under that pot. Remove with tongs or a spatula. Set the asparagus spears on a plate or glass cutting board to cool slightly. When they are cool enough to touch, cut the spears into 1-inch long pieces.
3. Place the cooked pasta in a large bowl with the olive oil and garlic. Toss together so the oil coats the pasta. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cheese into the pasta. Fold the asparagus in with the pasta mixture and stir so the ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Sprinkle with rosemary and pepper. Serve warm. This dish is particularly delicious when paired with grilled salmon or roast chicken.
Asparagus in a Blanket
1 bunch asparagus spears, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 cup goat cheese or fresh mozzarella
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 containers refrigerated ready-to-bake crescent rolls
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Bring a saucepan of water to boil then gently slip the asparagus spears in to cook. After only 1 minute, remove the pan from heat. Take the spears out of the hot water using tongs or a spatula. Set the asparagus spears on a plate or glass cutting board to cool slightly.
3. When they are cool enough to touch, cut the tips off and set them aside. Slice the remaining spears into 1/2-inch pieces. Put them in a foot processor along with the cheese, garlic, thyme, and pepper. Mix the ingredients until they take on a fairly smooth consistency.
4. Remove the crescent dough from the package and separate at the perforations to create individual triangles. Place about 3/4 teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the center of each triangle. Fold the triangle tip over to create a crescent roll shape. Repeat until all the pastry has been used.
5. Arrange all pastries in an oven-safe baking dish. Evenly sprinkle rosemary leaves over the pastries.
6. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving.
7. Serve on a platter. Garnish with the blanched asparagus tips.
Roast Asparagus Spears
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound of asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, mix the minced garlic with the olive oil.
3. Arrange the asparagus spears in one layer on a baking sheet or oven-safe platter. Brush them with the garlic olive oil. Evenly sprinkle the garlic salt over the spears.
4. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until tender. The time varies with the thickness of the spear.
5. Serve warm.