Asparagus - The Spearhead Of Spring
The robin is supposed to be the harbinger of spring, but I prefer my harbingers to be edible, so I look to asparagus to play that role. Although it's now available year round, it's best (and cheapest) in the spring.
There are two asparagus issues. The first is thickness. If you think that, when it comes to asparagus, thinner is better, think again. Asparagus spears aren't like waistlines; the thick ones are often most desirable. In fact Martial, a Roman poet of the first century, wrote that asparagus from Ravenna was the best in the world, and each stalk could weigh as much as 10 ounces. Martial understood that the big ones have a full-bodied asparagus flavor.
The second issue is cooking time. If you like your asparagus soft, don't be sneered into submission by the tender-crisp crowd. Asparagus cooked until it's soft is not anathema; it has a different flavor and lots of people like it better. Don't be afraid to be one of them.
Wherever you stand on the asparagus issues, you'll find it's easy to incorporate them into meals.
Look for tips that are firm and completely closed. They have a squeaky feel and a fresh smell. Break off the stems at the natural breaking point, but don't worry about peeling unless you're dealing with exceptionally thick, woody spears.
- Toss steamed or sautéed asparagus with mustard, pepper, olive oil, and a little lemon juice.
- Grill them. There is an inherent danger in grilling anything long and thin. (To avoid the horror of watching your asparagus slip through the grill into the coals, use one of those grill baskets meant for fish.)
- Roast them in a 425 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes.
- Serve sautéed asparagus with toasted slivered almonds.
- Make an asparagus omelet with some sautéed scallions and goat cheese.
- Marinate steamed asparagus in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, and garlic.
- Make a cold salad with asparagus, shrimp, and potatoes, with either a vinaigrette or mayonnaise dressing.
- Try pureed asparagus as an alternative to broccoli in a cream- or stock-based soup.
- Add sliced asparagus to a risotto (at the beginning of cooking, when you add the onions).
And, of course, you can't go wrong with a classic Hollandaise sauce.
Lemon dipping sauce:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup AP flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup beer (your favorite brand; pour beer slowly and do not measure the foam)
About 5 cups vegetable oil
2 lbs medium asparagus, trimmed and cut in half
Preheat the oven to 200°F
1. Prepare the dipping sauce; In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and chill until ready to use.
2. Prepare the batter; In a large bowl, place flour, lemon zest, salt and pepper and stir with a fork until evenly combined. Add the beer and whick until smooth.
3. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat about 3 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer.
4. Place the asparagus spears in the batter and coat evenly. Working in small batches, remove one spear at a time and gently remove excess batter against the side of the bowl, transfer to hot oil and fry, gently stirring to preventing the asparagus from sticking together. Fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper lined sheet pan and place in the oven to keep warm (up to 30 minutes). Allow the oil temperature to rise back to 375°F between frying batches.
Serve with the lemon dipping sauce and a frosty mug of beer!
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