Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday - Asparagus Edition!

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

So we are in the joyous throws of asparagus season. At the Ann Arbor Farmers Market we can get thick-as-your-thumb asparagus to the most graceful of baby stalks. We can find asparagus in bright green, deep green, white and purple. We can find long bouquets of similar shape and size, nicely portioned into banded bunches, or a whole mess of different lengths and widths spilled onto a table and left to the customer to sort.

We may be having hard times in Michigan these days, but we are asparagus rich.

I love asparagus. I have to admit that D has a lot to do with that. Growing up, asparagus usually meant something from a can or cooked to mush, and the only parts I found edible were the tips. When I met D, asparagus was his favorite vegetable, so I tentatively tried some as we dated. After we were married, I did most of the cooking because I was teaching and home in the late afternoon, and he often wasn't home until 7:00 or later. He requested asparagus and laughed that I didn't know how easy it was to prepare. And it is.

Now that I've tasted truly fresh asparagus, prepared in all sorts of methods and ways, I'm a huge fan. So today, I thought I'd share some favorite preparations.

NOTE: For ALL asparagus preparation, prep asparagus first by breaking off the bottom part, which is woody. This part will snap off naturally. If you buy variegated pieces of asparagus, these will probably already have been snapped off at the woody part, but if they are all pretty and even, you probably still need to snap off the base.

Simple Asparagus - Poaching

1. Rinse similar width pieces of asparagus - two good handfuls. (Okay, I ignore the sizing - I just pull pieces from the water as they're ready, but it's up to you).
2. Heat a saute pan with about 1/2 - 3/4" cold water to boiling.
3. Drop in asparagus. Cook 2 - 5 minutes, depending on how "done" you like your asparagus. Asparagus is al dente ready when it turns bright green.
4. Remove from water with tongs. Place on platter. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt, a drizzle of olive oil, a few grinds of good pepper and some grated sharp cheese (such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Asiago), if desired. Lemon juice and olive oil are a good topping, too. Dijon mustard whisked with olive oil and drizzled over the spears also works. (Serves 2 - 4)

Simple Asparagus - Sauteed
1. Rinse two good fistfuls of asparagus and cut into 1 - 2" pieces.
2. Heat 1/2 TBS olive oil in a saute pan over medium to medium high heat.
3. Slice 2 good-sized cloves of garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so, until garlic smell is released.
4. Throw asparagus into the pan. Saute 2 - 4 minutes until asparagus turns bright green. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and grate a little bit of nutmeg and/or cheese over all. Serve.
(Serves 2 - 4)

Simple Asparagus - Roasted
1. Preheat oven to 450. If you have a convection oven, set it to the "roast" setting.
Place the oven rack in the upper third of the oven.
2. Rinse two good handfuls of asparagus and place them in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with kosher salt and drizzle olive oil over them (you shouldn't need more than a teaspoon or so of the olive oil). Toss them with your hands, to spread the olive oil.
3. Roast for 5 - 20 minutes. Now... here's the thing. If you want them al dente (so to speak), 5 - 10 minutes will do the trick. This is what I did for the salad below. If you want them sweet and caramelized and crispy and almost orgasmic, keep going to 20, stirring occasionally. They will look shriveled coming out of the oven, but the flavor will be amazing. Sprinkle with pepper.
(Serves 2 - 4)

Simple Asparagus - Grilled
1. Fire up the grill.
2. Rinse those two good handfuls of asparagus and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil and slather so the oil is distributed.
3. As other things are cooking on the grill, throw on the asparagus during the last 5 - 10 minutes. Again, bright green is al dente, and you can go for crisp and browned and shriveled, as in roasted. For grilled asparagus, I still add the salt and pepper at the end, but I also like a drizzle (and I do mean a drizzle) of balsamic vinegar.

Asparagus and Pasta

1 recipe of Simple Asparagus - Sauteed, with the olive oil increased to 1 TBS
4 oz. fettucine or farfalle or other flat-ish pasta
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese or equivalent

1. Make a batch of Simple Asparagus - Sauteed, increasing the olive oil to a full TBS, and set aside.
2. Cook 1/4 lb. fettucine or farfalle or some other flat-ish pasta according to directions. Before draining, ladle some pasta water into the saute pan with the asparagus and garlic, and bring back to burner, setting heat on medium high.
3. Drain and rinse pasta and toss in with asparagus mixture.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste and add in 1/8 cup grated parmesan. Stir together for about 2 - 3 minutes until everything is well blended and the cheese is melted.
5. Split into bowls and serve with the rest of the cheese, a fresh salad and maybe some bread. This is very simple, but delicious when asparagus is in season!

Serves 2

Asparagus-Goat Cheese Fritatta

1 recipe of Simple Asparagus - Sauteed, with the olive oil increased to 1 TBS
8 eggs
1/2 cup fresh basil, torn or chopped
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp sea salt
2 oz. soft goat cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450.
2. Beat 4 eggs and 4 egg whites, and then stir in a 1/2 cup of fresh basil, torn or chopped, and 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 1 tsp sea salt. Set aside.
3. Make a batch of Simple Asparagus - Sauteed, but make sure to use an oven-proof skillet, and use a full TBS of olive oil this time.
4. After asparagus is bright green, pour in egg mixture and stir a bit - not scrambling the eggs, but helping them to set.
5. As eggs start to set, crumble goat cheese on top - scatter over surface of frittata.
6. Place skillet in oven and cook 10 minutes.
7. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 3 - 4

Jen's Kinda-Sorta Asparagus Nicoise Salad


For the salad:
1 - 2 lbs. new potatoes
1 recipe Simple Asparagus - Roasted
3 small tomatoes
3 slices of cooked bacon, or cook while other things are boiling/in the oven
2 eggs
2 TBS capers packed in water

For the vinaigrette:
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 TBS red wine vinegar
2 TBS reduced fat mayonnaise
1 - 2 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS dijon mustard
1 TBS chopped, fresh dill

1. Preheat oven to 450, and set the oven rack to the top third of the oven.
2. Scrub 1 - 2 lbs. of small new potatoes and place them, along with 3 eggs, in a pot of cold water just covering everything. Bring to a boil, then cook until potatoes are fork tender (about 20 minutes).
3. While potatoes are cooking, prepare a batch of Simple Asparagus - Roasted.
4. While asparagus is in the oven, cook up 3 slices of bacon, preferably thick-sliced and local.
5. Chop 3 small tomatoes into large chunks.
6. Prepare vinaigrette. Simply whisk together all ingredients until a smooth dressing is formed.
7. Remove potatoes from water when they are fork tender, and rinse potatoes and eggs with cold water. Leave eggs, in shells, in cold water until ready.
8. Remove asparagus from oven and set aside to cool.
9. Cut potatoes in halves or quarters (large, bite-sized pieces), and toss with vinaigrette.
10. Chop asparagus into bite-sized pieces, and add, along with tomatoes, to potatoes. Toss.
11. Peel and slice eggs, crumble the bacon and add to the top of the salad. Sprinkle 2 TBS of capers packed in water over all.

Serves 2 - 3 for dinner or 6 as a side.


glamah16 said...

How original! A salade Nicoise with asparagues rather than beans. Love It!

Sun Runner said...

My first share from Tantré Farm came with a bundle of asparagus which I cooked in my favorite way, oven-roasting al dente style. I still have half of the bundle left, too!

Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said...

Great tips for cooking this very versatile wonderful veggie. The Nicoise you made is quite original...need to give that a try.

Jen said...

Glamah and Peter, it was one of those "necessity is the mother of invention" moments. I had to use up the tomatoes and potatoes, and it just sort of all appealed. D and I really enjoyed it.

Sarah, I just picked up my share this a.m. I still had asparagus leftover from Saturday in terms of some I bought from Carpenter's, and the bunch in the center of the pic on this entry was my bunch from Tantre.

Korie said...

CB loves asparagus and I'm starting to like it too. These are great! I'll definitely be trying the fritata...or hey, my birthday is this Friday, CB can make the fritata! Ha!

Jen said...

Happy early b'day, Lilac! The frittata is really easy - let CB make something more complicated for you.

anno said...

That salade Nicoise looks heavenly -- if I had asparagus, I'd make this tonight! Maybe tomorrow...

Jen said...

I was pretty pleased with it, Anno. One of those experiments that turned out right.

Jami said...

Grilled or roasted (and your recipes for both are how we do 'em) I LOVE asparagus! With fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Roasted is also really good if you finely dice some tasso (Cajun ham) in with the spears before roasting. OMG!

Although both my kids like broccoli, they aren't big asparagus eaters because "it makes my pee stink".

Jen said...

Darn it, Jami, your comment about Tasso just reminded me that I forgot one of my fave asparagus recipes. I'll probably add an addendum.

Oh! I forgot about the pee stink factor, too. True, sadly. ;-)

Mommy Project said...

Wow! That was all I could ever want to know about how to cook asparagus.

Thanks for all the great info. :)

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I have been meaning to experiment more with've given me *lots* to work with here. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey! I just bought some asparagus at the Wed market (have the day off for tooth extraction...that's one of those mixed blessings, to say the least).
I never ate the 'gus til this year and I discovered that if you blanch it and put it on some french bread, cover with olive oil and a slice of cheese, and then broil it, you will have a lovely lunch (that is, when you have all of your teeth, and you can chew)

Sister Sassy said...

YUM! Around here you find people selling it on the roadside. So fresh and yummy!

I'm going to grill some tomorrow I think.

CableGirl said...

mmmm.... asparagus has to be my all time favorite veggie. I used to call them funny green things when I was a kid. That was to distinguish them from the trees that were my other favorites. sadly CableDad does not share my love of FGTs. *sigh*

Thistlemoon said...

All the ways to prepare asparagus! Love the photos!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen!
Kinda-sorta-def great! ;)

cathouse teri said...

This makes me want to KILL for some asparagus tonight! mmmmmmmmmmmm

Hey, thanks for stopping by at the post I recommended. Did you read the comments there?

Insane Mama said...

Oh my god... yeah! Asparagus my favorite

Goofball said...

wow, is there that many ways to prepare asparagus.

it's so funny as I share your "child/teenager" dislike for asparagus due to my moms poor cooking skills to prepare them. Somehow I remember only woody pieces or canned yukkie asparagus. She also barely ever prepared them (much to my relief).

It's now Jan how loves them and buys them when they are in season, and I am just learning to trust his cooking of asparagus slowly. But as I know you can really mess up an asparagus as well, I usually don't dare to take them in restaurants. Until I see Jan eating them with much joy and then he gets me hesitating again.

....I'm sure I'll slowly learn to love them as well as long as my mom does not prepare them ;)

Proud Italian Cook said...

I'm with Glamah, love the Nicoise with asparagus! What a great idea, I must try that. Great post Jen, thanks!!

Momisodes said...

I love those tips. Especially since we all love asparagus in our house. I tend to always place them in the oven, but I MUST try the grilling since it's summer :)

Dru said...

I love asparagus but every time I prepare it, I overcook it. I will definitely try several of your easy, simple recipes.

My friend told me to shave the sides, I never knew why, but I see that you don't.

Have a good Wednesday.

Jen said...

Norma-ann and Michelle - I'm glad it was helpful!

Patti - That's sort of similar to what I had for lunch - I roasted the asparagus then ate them with some bread smeared with City Goat with chives. Yum! Yours sounds delicious, too.

Jen said...

Sassy - I hope you enjoy them! Michigan is such a bountiful place in the spring/summer!

CG - I'm so sorry that CD doesn't like FGT! You can visit us and we'll ply you with all the FGTs you want. ;-)

Thanks, Jenn! I always think my photos suck, so the compliment is particularly appreciated!

Jen said...

Thanks, Maryann!

Teri, I'd better go back - there weren't many comments when I stopped by there.

Insane Mama, I'm right there with you!

Goofball, you're right, but if you have really fresh asparagus and don't cook it too long, it's hard to go wrong.

Jen said...

Thanks, Proud Italian! I hope you enjoy it. ;-)

Sandy - it's so great when it's something the whole family loves.

Dru, again, I think the secret is to not cook it very long. Just wait for that bright green color.

Shan said...

Well weren't we in tune this week! I have to admit I really had no idea how to cook asparagus any other way. Thanks for the tutorial.

Jen said...

Shan it wasn't so much a tutorial as this seems to be what I'll be eating for the next couple of weeks, based on farm share, etc. I loved your recipe, too!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

thank you! I am going to buy some at the market next week. My things from the states are supposed to be delivered next week, so I will be able to cook once again.

janey jay said...

Am green with envy over this post -- the mister cannot stand asparagus, so I can merely be an observer. But I love the Salade Niocoise idea...

PS: also really envious of all your markets -- we're not that food-forward here in my part of the universe...

Jen said...

Oh, NYC, you must be so happy! I was missing my kitchen for about a month last year and two months in terms of having the whole thing functional and it was harder than it should have been. And I'll bet those Roman markets are wonderful!

Jen said...

Jane, you and CG are both FL girls - get together and have an asparagus party! Or come on up here and we can all have a party!

Núria said...

Wow Jen! You are Queen of the asparagus :D So many ways to cook them!!! I'm also an asparagus lover... I just had a bunch yesterday... Mmmmm

Love your Nicoise asparagus salad!!!

Jen said...

Thanks so much, Nuria. There's no doubt that I looooovvvvvvveeeee asparagus!

Kim said...

Jen - Amazing post and great ideas for what to do with the lovely and amazing asparagus. Am drooling.


Jen said...

Thanks for the kind words, Kim! The asparagus is soooooooo good this year, isn't it?

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

greece2006I have a huge bundle of local asparagus in the fridge, you have given me several ideas to use it up, thanks:D

Jen said...

I'm glad it was helpful,Val!

painted maypole said...

mmm... i like asparagus too, unfortunately i'm the only one in my house who does!

Jen said...

PM, you're like the third person whose said that. What a shame! But make some anyway - you can use the extras for salads or whatever when you're having lunch.

Paola Westbeek said...

Delicious! I love the pictures and I love asparagus! Your salad sounds to die for!


Paola Westbeek said...

Delicious! I love the pictures and I love asparagus! Your salad sounds to die for!


Paola Westbeek said...

Delicious! I love the pictures and I love asparagus! Your salad sounds to die for!


Paola Westbeek said...

Delicious! I love the pictures and I love asparagus! Your salad sounds to die for!


Paola Westbeek said...

Delicious! I love the pictures and I love asparagus! Your salad sounds to die for!


Jen said...

Thanks, Paola! I enjoyed making it.

Leslie said...

I like asparagus. Dave is scared of it. But I've always made it the same way. I'm going to have to try some of your suggestions here.