My sister Karen (Bone, Boney, the Bonesinator) and her easy-going foodie husband John requested that I write about our favorite veggie, asparagus. John is the cook in their family so I promised recipes that are easy to prepare and typically enjoyed by all.
When Karen and I were growing up, most vegetables at the table came from a can (unless it was fresh, yet boiled and slathered with melted Velveeta processed cheese). I am certainly not criticizing my mother ~ feeding and satisfying six kids and my father in those times had to be challenging to say the least. As a working woman, quick and easy was her mantra. At one point though, I do recall fresh boiled asparagus topped with buttered, browned bread crumbs that were delicious. My momma is 90 years old and still enjoys that dish.
Semi-fresh asparagus (who knows how long ago it was cut in Ecuador?) is readily available year round in the grocery store. I love the spring especially for the local farm markets selling their fresh asparagus. I too grow it but my 20+ year bed now needs replenishment. I tried planting extra crowns but they suffered from the last two very hot and dry summers. However, I will persevere! A newly planted bed requires work and nurturing ~ a deep trench, a lot of fertilizer and water and because of slow maturation, patience. Stalks should not be cut for 2-3 years until they are much thicker than a pencil. Certainly worth the effort – with diligent soil preparation an established bed can potentially yield decades of this ultimate vegetable in the springtime. There is a reported producing asparagus bed in the garden of Sir Joseph Hooker, the first curator of Kew Gardens in England that is over a century old. The regal stems quickly grow tall and fern out adding visual interest to the vegetable garden for eight months of the year.
To clean or not to clean – that is the question. Fresh cut asparagus can be sandy. I rinse mine but don’t worry about trimming the triangular ‘leaves’ on the side of the stalk. Most people like to clean them up for aesthetic reasons especially when the stalk is thicker. It is a personal preference because it does not affect the taste.
The use of asparagus in recipes is limitless. I have collected or created so many dishes using this incredibly versatile vegetable that it deserves its own category in my files. Perhaps one day I will write a cookbook (???) with only asparagus recipes.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner; appetizer, salad or side – the possibilities are endless. Hurry though, as the growing season is only about six weeks. Here are a few of my personal favorites…
Homemade Popovers with Scrambled Eggs, Herbs and Asparagus
Popovers are so simple to bake – you just need the proper popover pan (I got mine at Amazon).
• 2 eggs
• ¾ cup milk
• ¾ cup all-purpose flour
• ½ t. each salt and pepper
• 1 T. melted butter
1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and milk together.
2. Add remaining ingredients. Batter will be thin.
3. Heat the popover pan in a 425 degree pre-heated oven.
4. Spray pan with cooking spray then add batter to fill half way up each cup in the pan. Makes 6 large or 12 mini-popovers.
5. Bake for 30 minutes BUT DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! Like a soufflé, they will fall.
For the scrambled eggs, whisk 2 eggs per person with fresh chopped herbs like chives, tarragon or parsley – whatever you like. Cook on the stove over medium heat, adding freshly grated cheese of choice at the end to blend. I use white cheddar with eggs and herbs – nice, sharp flavor.
Cut the popovers ¾ way through and stuff with eggs. Top with extra herbs. Nice presentation for breakfast or brunch. They deserve a glass of fine champagne.
Roasted Asparagus with Proscuitto and Fried Egg
This dish can be served for breakfast or lunch. Using fried eggs over salads for a complete meal seems to be a big thing in the food movement of the moment.
• ½ lb. asparagus
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
• 6 slices of proscuitto*
• 1 T. butter
• 3 eggs
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place asparagus in a single layer on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
3. Roast for 10 minutes until tender.
4. Place proscuitto in a single layer on another sheet pan and roast for 5 minutes in the same oven.
5. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat (eggs are always better cooked on lower heat).
6. Crack eggs into the pan. Cook until the whites are cooked, sunny-side up (over-easy is not as pretty in the presentation factor).
7. Arrange asparagus on each plate, topping with 2 slices of proscuitto and the egg.
If you really want to get fancy and lay on the cholesterol, serve with hollandaise sauce!
*Proscuitto is now readily available in vacuum sealed packets in the grocery store. Although I adore Parma proscuitto fresh and thinly sliced, it will not bake as well and quite frankly is a waste of this often $25/lb. ingredient.
Pasta with Asparagus and Parmesan Cheese
This dish is a go-to for me when I am rushed and need carbs. Steam or roast ½ lb. fresh asparagus. Cook pasta of choice al dente. Coat with butter or olive oil, cut up asparagus and sprinkle with generous amounts of freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Voilà!
Asparagus Cheese Tart
I prepare this recipe as an appetizer cut into small pieces. You can’t go wrong…
1. 1 lb. asparagus
2. 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed*
3. 1 cup grated fontina cheese
4. 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese
5. 1 T. shallot, minced
6. 2 large egg yolks
7. 3 T. whole milk
8. 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
9. Pinch each of salt and fresh ground pepper
10. 1 tsp. olive oil
11. ½ tsp. grated lemon zest**
1. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
2. In a large skillet, cook asparagus until crisp, about 2 minutes depending on the size of the stalks.
3. Drain, transfer to ice water bath to stop the cooking, then drain again and pat dry.
4. Roll out the pastry puff into an 11×14 inch rectangle on a floured surface.
5. Transfer pastry to a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick with a fork. Pinch edges to form a slight crust.
6. Bake in a 400 degree oven until light golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly.
7. Mix the cheeses, shallot, egg yolks, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
8. Spread the mixture evenly over the cooled pastry.
9. Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
10. Arrange asparagus on the tart and bake until the cheese mixture is slightly puffy, about 15-20 minutes.
11. Sprinkle with lemon zest. Cut into small pieces and serve warm.
*You can make your own puff pastry but why bother when it is conveniently available in the frozen food section.
**Lemon zest adds a palate pleasing brightness to this somewhat heavy dish.
Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes
This side dish is an oldie but a goodie AND I recently saw a variation of my recipe in Cooking Light magazine! It creates the WOW! factor, especially when presented on a white platter.
• 1 lb. fresh asparagus
• 2 tsp. olive oil
• 1 ½ cups sweet cherry tomatoes, cut in half
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 T. balsamic vinegar*
• ¼ tsp. salt
• 3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled**
• ½ tsp. fresh ground pepper
1. Steam asparagus 2-5 minutes until tender.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
3. Add tomatoes and garlic, cook about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the vinegar and salt and cook an additional 3 minutes.
5. Arrange asparagus on a platter and top with tomato mixture.
6. Sprinkle with cheese and pepper.
*You can use white balsamic vinegar but the darker version adds a rich color to the dish.
**Being the cheese-head that I am, I have tried different crumbled cheeses. Goat cheese works the best as it is mild and lets the asparagus shine through and stand up to the vinegar.
AND just sayin’ – asparagus stalks adhered to containers for floral arrangements make a clever and stunning themed table decoration. Your guests will ooh and aah (maybe even your spouse!).
Happy Spring and Bon Appétit!