Asparagus At Every Meal

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Awesome Asparagus

I just love asparagus. When the first local crop shows up at the market, I often enjoy it at every meal for a few days. Or more. Why not? It’s wholesome, packed with antioxidants, and it’s delicious. Like so many vegetables, asparagus offers a subtle combination of savory and sweet subflavors that can be emphasized by alternating the herbs and spices we use in sauces. For instance, a mild curry sauce with a hint of cinnamon and coriander awakens sweetness, while lemon and capers bring out savory qualities.

Although we can now buy asparagus nearly year round, it often travels thousands of miles to our stores. As always, the very best flavor belongs to asparagus that is fresh, locally grown and in season. When the first local produce arrives, grab it. Whether the stalks are thick or thin, there are wonderful ways to use them. Very thick stalks can be carefully peeled (though I find this a bother and prefer the slightly crispy crunch of skin-on asparagus).

Asparagus A La Mode

OK, no, maybe not asparagus ice cream (though it makes an…interesting…sorbet). But lots of other modes do wonders for these skinny green stalks. Use them in soups, salads, or stir fries, tucked into omelets, as a simple side dish, or raw in salads of many kinds. Ready?

Raw Asparagus Salads

I love the taste and textures of raw asparagus salads, especially in spring, when we all crave fresh, lively flavors.

Italian Asparagus Salad

1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers (or any)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fairly plump asparagus
4 white mushrooms (really), halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 cup flat Italian parsley
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

In a jar, combine the lemon juice and rind with the olive oil, capers, and salt, shake well and taste. (If you use capers packed in oil or vinegar, you may want a bit more salt.) Slice asparagus very thinly on the diagonal. In a large salad bowl, combine asparagus, sliced mushrooms, red onion, parsley, and walnuts, drizzle with dressing  and toss gently. Serves at least one.

Asparagus & Shrimp Salad

4 cups young greens
2 cups black Tuscan kale, shredded
1 cup arugula or radicchio, shredded
8 spears asparagus, ends snapped, cut thinly on the diagonal
4-6 ounces cooked, cleaned shrimp
4 green onions, cut thinly on the diagonal
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon cilantro, stemmed and minced
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup roasted almonds, chopped

In a serving bowl, arrange greens, spinach, arugula, asparagus, shrimp, and onions. In a small bowl, combine yogurt with garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Drizzle this over the salad, toss gently and serve, garnished with almonds. Serves four.

Layered Luxury

Steamed asparagus cooks in a flash and can be partnered with compatible ingredients to make a whole meal. Asparagus, fish, spinach, and kale are layered in a steamer basket, then cooked until the fish is opaque. To serve, plate the kale, arrange a serving of fish, then add the asparagus. A lively sauce of tart French sorrel with lime juice and capers unites the entire meal deliciously.

Petrale Sole and Asparagus With Sorrel Lime Sauce

20 spears asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1 – 1/2 pounds petrale or Dover sole, rinsed
8 cups (1 bunch) red or black kale, stemmed and shredded
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 organic lime, juiced, rind grated
1 cup French sorrel, stemmed and shredded
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fre[shly ground pepper
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Place a large steamer basket in a snugly fitting saucepan over an inch of water. Layer in the asparagus, then add layers of fish and kale. Cover pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium high and steam until fish is opaque when flaked (5-7 minutes). While water heats, heat olive oil and shallot in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook, stirring, until shallot is barely soft (3-4 minutes). Add lime rind, sorrel, salt, pepper and cook, covered, until sorrel wilts (2-3 minutes). Stir in lime juice and capers, remove from heat, set aside. When fish is opaque, arrange kale on each of four plates. Top with fish and arrange asparagus on the side. Drizzle fish and asparagus with sorrel lime sauce and garnish with sesame seeds. Serve at once. Serves 4.

Breakfast Asparagus

Serve this fluffy omelet stuffed with asparagus and mushrooms and topped with lemony yogurt sauce for breakfast, brunch, or a lovely  lunch. Pass around some crusty toast made from rosemary or olive bread and a tossed green salad dressed with green onions and tiny tips of raw asparagus.

Asparagus Omelet with Lively Lemon Sauce

1 cup ricotta cheese (lowfat works fine)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon thyme or any thyme, stemmed
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream (nonfat works fine)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
16 spears asparagus, ends snapped, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon flat Italian parsley, stemmed

In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, the eggs, and the thyme, set aside. In another bowl, combine the yogurt or sour cream, the garlic, the lemon juice and rind, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, set aside.  In a shallow frying pan, heat 1 teaspoon each of oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the asparagus and the mushrooms, sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Cover pan and cook until mushrooms are soft (3-5 minutes). Set aside. In a larger omelet pan, heat remaining oil and butter over medium high heat until butter melts. Add ricotta mixture, swirl pan to spread evenly. Reduce heat to medium, cover pan and cook until omelet is puffed and set (4-6 minutes). Spoon asparagus and mushrooms over half the omelet, top with half the sauce and fold over. Cut in four pieces and serve, topped with remaining sauce and garnished with parsley. Serves four.

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