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Recipe Category: Appetizer
Recipe Preparation Level: easy
Spears Are Here
Asparagus is the classic arbinger of spring. (Jorn Rynio - Tony Stone Images)
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By Robin Kline
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 3, 2002; Page F01
I mention to a friend that I'm working on a number of asparagus recipes. Rapt, Jen confides her favorite ways with the vegetable that is a classic harbinger of spring. As we talk, I feel as though we're comparing indulgent secrets.
Grassy spring asparagus is our reward for winter's weeks of carrots and potatoes.
"Thanks" to agricultural technology and modern distribution systems, asparagus from far away is at the market during too many months of the year. Although produce seasons have almost been eliminated, I save my appetite for springtime spears.
Much as I'd like to say "peel or not, as you choose," I think peeling is necessary (unless the asparagus is pencil-thin) because the outer flesh is tough and woody. Just do it.
Before peeling, break off and discard the woody bottom of each stalk at the point where it snaps easily. Then, with a vegetable peeler, peel the stalk, stopping an inch or so from the tip.
Although it may seem heretical to some, I think that fatter green spears are invariably tastier, sweeter and more tender than the elegant thin spears. But always look for asparagus whose tips are tightly curled and have not started to unfurl.
Serve these with a grilled steak, or snazz them up by scattering shaved aged cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or manchego, over the top just prior to serving.
You could also try making this under the broiler or in a grill pan. To prevent thin stalks from falling between the grates on the grill, you should obviously place them strategically perpendicular to the grates. But, if not using pencil-thin asparagus, you can skewer several spears together across 2 metal or wooden skewers (perpendicular, forming a raft, if you will). Poke 1 skewer through the spears near the tip and then the other skewer near the bottom end of the stalks.
• 2 pounds fresh asparagus, preferably thick, ends trimmed (stalks peeled)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
• Finely minced or grated lemon zest (optional garnish)
Preheat the grill.
Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the asparagus with the oil and turn to coat.
Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to the grill, placing them perpendicular to the grate. Cook, turning frequently to ensure even browning, until almost tender, 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness and the desired degree of doneness. Transfer to a platter. Serve hot or at room temperature. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, sprinkle with lemon zest.
Per serving: 61 calories, 6 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 99 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
(3 to 4 servings)
This soup gets its flavor from the asparagus stalks only, thereby reserving the delicate tips as a garnish or for another recipe. The asparagus flavor is mild at best; even asparagus haters might be coaxed into trying it.
The soup is more substantial than you might suspect.
• 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, stalks peeled
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1/4 cup long-grain rice, uncooked
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 3 cups chicken stock or broth
• 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 4 ounces baby spinach leaves, stems trimmed and discarded, leaves torn
• About 4 tablespoons (1 ounce) grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
• Salt to taste
Trim the asparagus tips from the stalks; reserve the tips for another use and cut the remaining stalks into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and asparagus pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the asparagus is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, thyme and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, to completely coat the grains of rice, about 1 minute. Add the stock or broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes. Puree the soup, either using an immersion blender or a food processor or blender (may need to process in batches). Return the soup to the pan, return to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, just until warmed through. Add the lemon juice and spinach and stir to combine. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, cover and set aside to rest for about 3 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve warm.
Per serving (based on 4): 183 calories, 12 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 326 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
Roast Asparagus, Prosciutto and Parmesan on Sauteed Mushrooms
(2 to 4 servings)
This makes an elegant counterpart to a simply prepared fillet of fish or it could be dinner on its own (well, almost) when served with a chunk of good bread and a glass of wine.
Chop the asparagus, mushrooms, shallots and garlic while the oven is preheating. Once you've gotten the asparagus in the oven, then you should set about sauteing the mushrooms.
For the asparagus:
• 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed (stalks peeled)
• 2 teaspoons olive oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 2 ounces prosciutto (may substitute any thinly sliced smoked or cured ham), torn or cut into small pieces
• About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved Pecorino Romano, Parmesan or Gruyere cheese
For the mushrooms:
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 4 shallots, thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
• 12 ounces assorted mushrooms (such as cremini, chanterelle, shiitake and oyster), stems trimmed, caps sliced
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
For the asparagus: Place the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the oil and shake the sheet gently to coat the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and roast, shaking the sheet once or twice to turn the asparagus, until almost tender and the desired degree of doneness but still bright green, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Scatter the prosciutto and cheese evenly over the asparagus and roast just until the cheese melts and the prosciutto frizzles, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside.
For the mushrooms: While the asparagus roasts, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid and are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the garlic. Set aside.
To serve, divide the mushrooms among individual plates or large shallow bowls. Using a spatula, top the mushrooms with the asparagus. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 208 calories, 17 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 482 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
Stir-Fried Ginger Pork and Asparagus With Peanut Dressing
(4 to 6 servings)
This colorful entree teams asparagus with the assertive flavors of ginger, sesame and peanut. You may make the dressing several hours ahead and refrigerate until needed. The entire dish also may be made ahead of time since it tastes equally good warm or cold.
• 1 small pork tenderloin or 2 thick-cut boneless pork chops (8 to 12 ounces total)
• 8 to 10 ounces Chinese egg noodles or spaghetti
• About 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed (stalks peeled), tips and stalks cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
• 1 bunch scallions (white and tender green parts), cut into 1-inch pieces
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
• 2 tablespoons grated or finely chopped ginger root
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
• Peanut Dressing (recipe follows)
• 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, or to taste (optional)
• 1/3 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts (optional)
Cut the pork into very thin slices (meat is easier to slice if it's almost frozen); set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, uncovered, according to package directions. Transfer to a colander and drain well. Cover the colander with a pan lid to keep warm.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until it glides easily across the surface of the skillet. Add some of the pork, working in batches so as not to crowd the skillet, and stir-fry until white and almost cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the thickness. Transfer to a plate; cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining pork, adding more oil if necessary.
Return the same skillet to medium-high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Add the asparagus, bell pepper and scallions and stir-fry just until the vegetables begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, sesame seeds and partially cooked pork and stir-fry until the pork is cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Immediately drizzle with the Peanut Dressing and toss to combine.
To serve, place the reserved noodles in a shallow serving bowl or divide evenly among individual serving bowls. Top with the stir-fried mixture. If desired, garnish with cilantro and peanuts. Serve immediately.
Per serving (based on 4): 538 calories, 33 gm protein, 47 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 83 mg cholesterol, 4 gm saturated fat, 1,457 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber
(Makes about 3/4 cup)
This simple dressing is also good drizzled over steamed asparagus.
• 4 teaspoons peanut butter (chunky or creamy)
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
• 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
In a medium bowl whisk together the peanut butter, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, vegetable and sesame oils and pepper flakes. (May cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.)
Just before serving, whisk to recombine.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 59 calories, 1 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 352 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Robin Kline, a food writer in Des Moines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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