Celebrating Spring Tenderness

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Amazing Asparagus

When it’s still too cold and wet to plant much in mid-April, the wise gardener finds comfort in the kitchen. Among spring’s great gifts is fresh, local asparagus, not airlifted in from gigantic water sucking agribusinesses in Peru but harvested from local fields by our neighbor farmers. Beautiful and tender, fresh local asparagus is among spring’s first and finest delicacies.

Along with subtle flavor and crisp texture, asparagus offers a host of health benefits. Full of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, these slender spears help lower blood pressure and harmful cholesterol levels. High in vitamins C and K, it’s also a good source of folic acids.  A mild diuretic, asparagus is a traditional spring cleanser for the liver, kidneys, and bladder and is considered beneficial for women troubled by monthly cramps and bloating.

Enjoyable Spring Vegetable Medleys

Also among my favorite early vegetables are the tender turrets of Romanesco broccoli, a Baroque looking vegetable that’s delicious fresh or lightly cooked. I like to snap off the little spirals and steam or sauté them, then bathe them in a sprightly sauce to wake up their subtle sweetness.

For a double treat,  try Asparagus and Romanesco Broccoli With Citrus Sauce. Crunchy with hazelnuts and lively with tangerine juice, this recipe combines fresh young vegetables with fresh tarragon, ruby red blood orange sections, and green onions.

Asparagus and Romanesco Broccoli with Citrus Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 organic tangerine, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon tarragon, chopped
1 head Romanesco broccoli, florets trimmed
12 spears asparagus, ends snapped
1 moro or blood orange, sectioned and peeled
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

In a heavy frying pan, over medium heat, heat olive oil with butter, shallots, tangerine rind, and 1/8 teaspoon salt until pale golden (2-3 minutes). Stir in tangerine juice and tarragon, then reduce heat to low. Set a vegetable steamer basket into a large saucepan over several inches of water and bring to a boil. Add Romanesco broccoli florets,  sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt, cover pan  and cook barely tender (about 2-3 minutes). Add asparagus and cook until spears are barely tender (2-3 minutes). Toss vegetables with orange sections, drizzle with sauce and serve, garnished with hazelnuts. Serves 4-6.

For brunch, perhaps partnered with a fluffy omelet, consider the charms of Asparagus Salad  With Creamy Herb Dressing. Crisp asparagus spears are tossed with a creamy, dreamy yet healthy dressing that is also delicious spooned over chicken or grilled fish.

Asparagus Salad  With Creamy Herb Dressing

1 cup thick Greek yogurt (nonfat works fine)
1 teaspoon chives, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon balm, shredded
1 teaspoon lemon thyme OR any thyme, stemmed
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
4 cups mixed baby greens
1 cup arugula, shredded
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup brown field mushrooms, thinly sliced

In a bowl, blend yogurt, chives, 1/4 cup lemon balm, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir well to blend, set aside. Put asparagus into a steamer basket over 1 inch of water. Sprinkle with remaining salt. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Cook until asparagus is barely tender but still crisp (2-3 minutes). Remove basket from pan and let asparagus cool. Arrange greens and arugula on four plates and top with asparagus, green onions, and mushrooms. Drizzle with dressing and garnish with remaining lemon balm. Serve at once. Serves four.

When shallots are plump and fresh, try Asparagus With Shallots. Tart and tangy, this easy yet elegant sauce partners sweet young asparagus delightfully. The sauce also complements fish or fowl as well as any steamed or roasted vegetable.

Asparagus with Lemon Shallot Sauce

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme, stemmed
1 organic lemon, juiced, zest grated
20 spears asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon flat Italian parsley, stemmed

Heat oil with butter in frying pan over medium high heat. Add shallots, salt, pepper, thyme and grated lemon rind and cook, stirring, until shallots are pale golden (3-4 minutes). Add asparagus, reduce heat to medium, cover pan and cook until barely soft (2-3 minutes). Add lemon juice to taste, starting with 2 teaspoons. Place asparagus on serving platter. Drizzle with pan juices, garnish with parsley and serve. Serves four.

Crisp and amazingly fragrant, Garlic Asparagus is so popular at my house that I allow half a bunch per person (or sometimes more). This makes a fabulous side dish for fish or chicken and leftovers are excellent in salads, soups or or omelets.

Garlic Asparagus

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bunches asparagus, stems snapped
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked peppercorns

In a wide saucepan, heat oil, butter, and garlic over medium high heat until lightly browned (2-3 minutes). Add asparagus and sprinkle with salt and peppercorns. Cover pan and shake well to coat asparagus lightly. Cook, covered, over medium heat until barely tender (2-3 minutes), shaking pan often. Serve at once. Serves 4-6.

Asparagus Kitchen Tips:

For evenly tender asparagus spears, gently snap (don’t cut) the stem end off.

Steam asparagus until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes), then toss with peeled tangerine sections and dried cranberries.

Chop asparagus on the diagonal and toss into a shrimp stir fry at the last minute.

Saute chopped asparagus with a drop of chili oil and black sesame seeds.

Fat asparagus is more tender than skinny spears.

Roast or grill plump asparagus till lightly caramelized (8-10 minutes), then drizzle with virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a splendid side dish.

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