It’s the age of asparagus

By on April 30, 2013

plateTwo events on the Outer Banks herald spring to me and neither coincides with the vernal equinox.

The first is the return of the ospreys. The second is seeing my asparagus spears just starting to push up through the earth. I’ll be celebrating asparagus from my garden for the next month or so and I hope you, too, will take advantage of the season to enjoy asparagus.

If you’re buying your asparagus, look for spears with tightly formed heads. If the tops are loose and spindly and starting to open up, the asparagus is past its prime. Also, I’d recommend peeling store-bought spears before using. Homegrown asparagus, if used soon after harvesting, doesn’t need peeling.

Just-picked shoots are deliciously tender. To prepare asparagus, hold an end of the spear in each hand and snap off the bottom of the spear. Don’t worry; the asparagus knows where to break.

Here it is, the end of April, and I should not be making soup; but it’s still cold, gray, rainy, and windy. It’s time for more soup — asparagus soup.

051Asparagus Purée Soup
1 pound asparagus
1 large shallot, minced
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup milk (Or cream, or combination thereof, if you like it richer.)
2 TB flour
3 TB Unsalted butter, divided
Grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Chop asparagus and mince the shallot.
Heat pan over medium high and add butter. When the butter starts to sizzle, add the asparagus and shallots. Raise heat to medium high and annoy asparagus and shallots with a wooden spoon for about a minute.
Add in a cup of vegetable stock. Let come to boil. Remove from heat.
Reserve some of the tips for a garnish.
Put the asparagus and shallot mixture in a processor and purée away. Hold aside.
Melt 2 TB butter in pan and add 2 TB flour. Cook over medium, scraping and stirring for about 2 minutes.
Lower heat and slowly stir in a cup of the stock. Let it thicken.
Whisk in the asparagus purée and then add a cup of milk or cream or a combination thereof. It depends on how rich you want your soup.
Season to taste with freshly ground salt and pepper.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with reserved asparagus tips.
Grate Parmesan cheese over top.

I love green soup. Makes me feel healthy.

If you prefer your soups a bit heartier, earthier, and more substantial, I suggest you throw in a potato. Use the natural starches in potatoes to help thicken the soup, so you don’t need to use as much flour.

DSCN3092Asparagus and Potato Soup
1 bunch asparagus
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 quart chicken broth
1 onion
2 stalks celery, leaves reserved
Parsley
Heavy cream
Flour
Butter
Oyster crackers

Dice the potato and place in pot. Add enough chicken broth to cover. Cook over medium low, until potato is just tender.
Chop the onion, celery and asparagus, reserving the asparagus tips.
Bring salted water to a boil and blanch asparagus tips for 30 seconds. Plunge tips into ice water to halt cooking and preserve color. Drain on paper towels and reserve tips.
Melt 2-3 tablespoons butter in a pan over medium heat. Add in chopped onions and cook about a minute. Add in the celery and asparagus. (Not the tips.) Cook a minute.
Add 2-3 TB flour and cook the raw out of the flour – about 1 ½ – 2 minutes.
Add in the potato/chicken broth mixture.
Gradually add in the rest of the chicken broth.
Cook on very low, covered, for about 25-30 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Use an immersion blender to purée the soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use an upright blender. Caution: Purée half at a time. We wouldn’t want a hot mess explosion in the kitchen.
Stir in a few tablespoons of cream for extra richness.
Ladle into bowls and add the reserved asparagus tips.
Top with chopped parsley and celery leaves.

DSCN3084Sublime flavors. Velvety and smooth and crisp textures.

In case you’re wondering, the red in there is a lovely fresh herb tomato cream sauce Mr. Hawthorne made to go on some rockfish the other night.

Always think ahead. I like the red color and love the tomato flavor.

002Asparagus and Ham Rollups

I love finger foods and these ham-wrapped asparagus are perfect for party appetizers. To prepare these, simply drop the asparagus in salted, boiling water. Cook for about 1 ½ minutes. You want the asparagus crisp-tender.

Drain the asparagus and immediately plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. When cool, pat dry and wrap in thin slices of deli ham. Consider using both maple and smoked ham slices.

DSCN5985Asparagus and Prosciutto Roll Ups
For a different spin on the asparagus roll up, try prosciutto roll ups. The addition of parsley and lemon zest give it a fresh boost in flavor, complementing the saltiness of the prosciutto.
Ingredients:
Asparagus
Prosciutto
Fresh parsley, chopped
Lemon zest
1 TB butter
Splash of Chardonnay

Combine the chopped parsley and lemon zest and sprinkle over the prosciutto. Spiral-wrap the asparagus spear with the parsley- and zest-coated prosciutto.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. When it starts to sizzle, add in the prosciutto-wrapped spears. Cook about two minutes, rolling the spears. Add in a splash of chardonnay and let it bubble for a minute and serve.
Remember, you want crisp-tender spears. Serve in the liquid and be sure to have some nice crusty bread to sop up the juices. No sense in letting all that flavor go to waste.

Green is so very good. And if you are blessed to be able to grow it yourself, even better.

To take advantage of the asparagus booty now, I’d recommend a Pasta Primavera Salad with Asparagus. This makes for a light, quick, and easy lunch dish.

primaveraPasta Primavera
Handful of pencil-thin asparagus
1 cup bow-tie pasta
½ red pepper, roasted and chopped
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen, NEVER canned
2 TB chopped red onion
4 scallions, chopped
1 endive, torn
Zest of one lemon
2 TB parsley
Pecorino Romano cheese, shaved

Dressing
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB lemon juice
1 TB honey
1 TB white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:
Mix first 6 ingredients, then slowly dribble olive oil in, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad:
Blanch the asparagus. Bring salted water to a boil. Drop in asparagus. Cook for 30 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the green color.

Cook pasta according to package directions.
Drain and toss with peas while still hot.

Roast the pepper half. Hold pepper over open flame until skin is blackened. Plunge into ice water and rub blackened skin off with thumb and forefinger. Chop and add to pasta.

Add sliced scallions, torn endive, and chopped asparagus to pasta.

Pour dressing over pasta and vegetables. Toss to coat. Add lemon zest and parsley. Mix thoroughly.

And enjoy Spring!

To see what’s cooking in the Hawthorne Household, please stop by and visit with Rosie at KitchensAreMonkeyBusiness.com.



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