Give meals a touch of spring asparagus

This classic green vegetable adds a punch of nutrition and a seasonal taste to otherwise routine meals

    A sure sign of spring is the appearance of asparagus in local gardens and grocery stores.
    This tasty vegetable is low in calories and is a good source of a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium.
    It’s also a good source of dietary fiber.
    When picking asparagus, select firm, straight, smooth, rich green stalks with tightly closed tips.
    The tough, woody ends will snap off with a little pressure. Some people prefer to cut off less of the stalk, but instead peel the tough skin off the lower part of the stems. These trimmings can be blanched, frozen and used later in stocks or soups.
    Remember to wash asparagus well, because dirt and sand often collect on the bottom of the stalks.
    To store fresh asparagus, clean it, trim the stem by about 1/4 inch and pat it dry. Wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends or stand asparagus in about two inches of water. Refrigerate and use it within two or three days.
    Some people swear that raw is the best way to enjoy asparagus. To do this, they trim the woody ends and then use a vegetable peeler to create ribbons of asparagus.
    These ribbons can be used in a salad or in eggs, particularly omelets or scrambled eggs. Top toast with asparagus, topping toast with a mixture of mashed avocado, ricotta or peas and then the asparagus ribbons. Or pair the ribbons with cooked fettuccine, bacon and shaved pecorino for a satisfying springtime dinner.
    If you’re not into raw asparagus, you can boil, steamed, microwave, stir fry, grill or roast it.
    Try serving cooked asparagus with lemon and butter; tossed with Parmesan cheese or a creamy pasta; or marinated and served warm or cold in a salad.
    To roast asparagus, place 1 pound of thin spears on a baking sheet, then drizzle it with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Toss the asparagus to coat it with the oil, then arrange it in a single layer. Spread 1 ounce of shaved Parmesan cheese over the top, season with freshly ground black pepper and bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 450-degree oven, until the cheese is melted and the asparagus is tender but crisp. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and serve.
    Following are a few asparagus recipes from

Penne With Asparagus, Sage and Peas

1/2 pound penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound thick asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups shelled English peas or frozen baby peas, thawed
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground pepper

    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain.
    In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add garlic and asparagus and cook over moderately low heat about three minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant. Add stock and boil over high heat about five minutes, until reduced by half and the asparagus are tender.
    Add peas and cream to the skillet and boil over high heat about three minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Stir in penne and cook until heated through.
    Remove from the heat and stir in butter, sage and the 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowls and serve immediately with additional cheese to sprinkle over top.


Grilled Asparagus Pizza With Gremolata

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed  
Pizza dough for two crusts
1-1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella, torn

    In a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup olive oil with parsley, oregano, lemon zest and juice, garlic and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and black pepper.
    Brush asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Grill on an oiled grate over moderately high heat for three to five minutes, turning, until lightly charred. Transfer to a carving board and let cool, then cut into two-inch pieces.
    On a lightly oiled large baking sheet, stretch one ball of pizza dough to a 12-inch oval or round and brush with olive oil.         Grill dough over moderate heat for two to three minutes, until lightly charred on the bottom. Flip the crust and scatter half each of the mozzarella and asparagus on top. Close grill and cook three to five minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is firm. Transfer to a large board.
    Repeat with the remaining dough, mozzarella and asparagus. Drizzle pizzas with the gremolata, cut into wedges and serve.


Roasted Asparagus And Mushrooms

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and halved crosswise
1 pound hen-of-the-woods or oyster mushrooms or 8 ounces morel mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup loosely packed watercress or arugula
Flaky sea salt, preferably Maldon
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling

    Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then arrange asparagus and mushrooms in an even layer on the sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and toss to coat. Roast in a 450-degree oven about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until charred and tender.
    Add butter and thyme leaves. Once butter is melted, toss vegetables to coat and roast about five minutes, until glazed.
    Arrange roasted vegetables on a platter, top with watercress and season with flaky sea salt to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.


Herbed Fazzoletti With Asparagus and Burrata

3/4 cup parsley, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons snipped chives, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chervil leaves, plus more for garnish
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound fresh pasta sheets, cut into 3-inch squares
1/4 cup pine nuts, preferably Italian
10 ounces burrata or buffalo mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes

    In a blender or food processor, combine 3/4 cup parsley with two tablespoons each chives, tarragon and chervil. Pulse until chopped. Add lemon juice and 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons oil and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put asparagus in a colander and ease it into the boiling water. Blanch two minutes, just until bright green. Shake dry. Boil pasta until al dente, then drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
    In a large, deep skillet, heat remaining oil. Add pine nuts and toast over moderate heat until golden, then transfer to a plate. Add pasta, herb puree, asparagus and pasta water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, tossing well. Toss in cheese and pine nuts. Transfer to bowls and garnish with whole herbs.


Asparagus Soup With Parmesan Coins

For shortbread:
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large egg yolks
For soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1-1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup tarragon leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
Freshly ground white pepper
Finely grated lemon zest, for garnish

    In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, combine flour, cheese, thyme, lemon zest and salt. Add the butter and egg yolks and beat at medium speed until lightly moistened crumbs form. Gather the crumbs and knead to form a two-inch-thick log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate about 30 minutes, until chilled.
    Slice the log 1/4-inch thick and arrange on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 325-degree oven about 20 minutes, until golden around the edges. Let cool on the sheets.
    In a large pot, melt the butter. Add onion, cover and cook over moderate heat about six minutes, stirring, until softened. Add asparagus and cook one minute. Add broth and simmer about 10 minutes, until asparagus is tender.
    Add tarragon and parsley. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, add the cream and peas and rewarm. Season with salt and white pepper and garnish with tarragon and zest. Serve with the Parmesan coins.



Shaved Raw Asparagus With Parmesan

2 pounds large asparagus
1 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

    Using a vegetable peeler, shave asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
    In a small bowl, mix Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.



Chicken Stir Fry With Asparagus

1/2 cup raw cashews
1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 pound asparagus, sliced on the diagonal, 1-inch thick
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped chives
Freshly ground black pepper

    Spread cashews in a pie plate and toast in a 350-degree oven for about eight minutes, until nicely browned and fragrant. Let cool.
    In a medium bowl, toss chicken with 1 tablespoon fish sauce. In a wok or large skillet, heat oil until shimmering. Add chicken in an even layer and cook over high heat about four minutes, turning once, until browned and just cooked throughout. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a clean bowl.
    Pour chicken stock into the wok and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Add asparagus slices, cover and cook over moderate heat about three minutes until crisp-tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to the bowl with the chicken.
    Add remaining fish sauce to the wok along with the oyster sauce, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Simmer about two minutes, until the sauce is reduced to 1/3 cup. Return chicken pieces and sliced asparagus to the wok and toss to heat through. Remove wok from the heat and stir in cashews, basil and chives. Season with black pepper and serve immediately.



Grilled Asparagus Subs With Smokey French Dressing

1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
Salt, preferably smoked
2 pounds medium asparagus, peeled and trimmed
Olive oil
Four 7-inch sub or hoagie rolls, split and lightly toasted
1/4 cup raisins
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

    In a blender, combine ketchup with mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, garlic and chipotle. Puree until smooth. Season the French dressing with salt.
    In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook asparagus about two minutes, until bright green. Drain asparagus and spread spears on a large baking sheet to cool.
    Preheat a large grill pan. Drizzle asparagus with olive oil and season with salt. Grill over moderately high heat about three minutes, turning, until tender and lightly charred.
    Spread the cut sides of each roll with three tablespoons smoky French dressing. Arrange grilled asparagus on the rolls and top with raisins, scallions and crumbled feta. Close sandwiches and serve.
     The smoky French dressing can be refrigerated for as long as three days.




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