by guest blogger Rich Baringer,
Even thought the weather hasn’t been reminding us, it is springtime. And that means fresh, local veggies are starting to appear. How long we’ve waited.
Asparagus takes patience and skill to grow. It must be in the ground for three years before it can be harvested for a whole season. Farmers often harvest it for just a short time over the first couple of years to allow for the plants to fully grow. But when it grows, it GROWS! Sometimes as much as 6-7 inches in a day.
We’re used to eating the green asparagus–sometimes with specks of purple thrown in. But if you can find purple asparagus, try it. It’s sweeter and more tender than the green variety. If you want it for the color, don’t cook it too long. It will retain the color with brief cooking, but then turn green if cooked for a while. White asparagus (actually kind of cream-colored) is the same as the green variety, except that the farmer has kept it from sunlight, which gives it the white color. The flavor of the white asparagus is milder and degrades fairly quickly, so it’s probably not worth the extra expense.
When you’re choosing asparagus in the market, pick spears that are firm and straight with compact tips. They should smell fresh and the color should be vibrant.
The thickness of the asparagus doesn’t affect the taste, so choose a size that fits the way you’re going to prepare them: thicker stalks for broiling, grilling or sautéing; thinner for steaming.
What does affect taste is time, so try to use asparagus within a few days of buying it. Store the stalks in the refrigerator in a tall glass with an inch or two of water. Change the water daily.
When you’re ready to cook, rinse the stalks, then hold one with one hand at the base and the other hand an inch or two toward the tip. Bend it and it will bread where the tough part begins. If all the stalks are about the same size, you can use this one as a template and cut the rest of the bunch with a knife. Or snap each stalk this way.
Asparagus makes a delicious, healthy, easy and quick side dish. And when they’re fresh, they don’t need much to enhance the flavor. Here are a couple of recipes to try.
Grilled Asparagus from America’s Test Kitchen
Use asparagus that’s about 1/2″ thick near the base. Very thin spears can’t handle the heat of the grill.
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 small garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press (about 1 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 lbs asparagus, ends trimmed (as described above)
1/4 tsp salt
Ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking grate
- Combine butter and garlic in a small bowl. Brush asparagus with butter mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- When grill is medium-hot, scrape grill grate clean with grill brush. Dip a wad of paper towels in the oil; wipe grate, holding the towels with tongs. Grill asparagus, turning once, until just tender and caramelized, 2-5 minutes per side. Transfer asparagus to platter and serve.
Asparagus Gratin from Cook’s Country
Use asparagus that’s between 1/4″ and 1/2″ in diameter.
2 lbs asparagus
2 1/2 cups water
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line broiler-safe baking dish with paper towels. Trim asparagus (as described above) and reserve ends. Bring water to boil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus ends and 1/4 tsp salt and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove ends and discard. Add asparagus spears to skillet, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until nearly tender, 2-4 minutes. Transfer asparagus to paper-lined baking dish. Pour asparagus water into liquid measuring cup; reserve 1 cup.
- Melt butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in reserved asparagus water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 3-5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan and Monterey Jack until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Remove paper towels from baking dish. Drizzle sauce over center of asparagus and top with remaining Parmesan. Broil until cheese is golden and asparagus is tender, 6-8 minutes. Serve.
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