Asparagus is the taste of spring — try these tempting variations

Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables of all. It leads nearly all produce in the wide array of nutrients it supplies in significant amounts for a healthy diet. And it’s delicious! There are so many ways to serve it up … the taste of spring!

Its wealth of nutrients, fiber and very low sodium and calorie content make asparagus a nutritionally wise choice for today’s health-conscious consumer.

Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol and is low in sodium. The larger the diameter, the better the quality! A 5.3 ounce serving provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folacin, which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease.

Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10” in a 24-hour period. Each crown will send spears up for about 6-7 weeks during the spring and early summer. The outdoor temperature determines how much time will be between each picking … early in the season, there may be 4-5 days between pickings and as the days and nights get warmer, a particular field may have to be picked every 24 hours. After harvesting is done the spears grow into ferns, which produce red berries and the food and nutrients necessary for a healthy and productive crop the next season. A well-cared-for asparagus planting will generally produce for about 15 years without being replanted.

But, for now, let’s concentrate on taste. Try these tasty ideas to really get a flavor for what’s possible with … asparagus.

Asparagus bacon tart

  • 5 slices bacon
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 lb.), thick ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
  • 1 cup soft goat cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Heat a large skillet over medium. Add bacon and cook until lightly crisped, 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add onion and thyme to skillet and cook until just softened, 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook until slightly crisp and golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Roll the pastry out onto a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle. Using hands, spread goat cheese evenly over the surface of the pastry, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Layer the asparagus mixture and bacon strips over the cheese.

Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg. Bake until golden and puffed, 20 to 25 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Asparagus almandine

  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook until color turns bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove, rinse under cold water, and drain. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice and cook until liquid reduces and becomes cohesive, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and pour over reserved asparagus. Serve immediately.

 

Golden asparagus soup

  • 4 cups chicken stock* (see recipe below) or canned broth
  • 2 thin slices fresh ginger (1/4 teaspoon ground ginger may be substituted)
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/3 pound fresh asparagus spears, cut into 1 1/4 inch pieces (14 1/2 ounce can asparagus cuts and tips, drained, may be substituted for fresh asparagus)
  • 2 ounces cellophane noodles, cooked and drained
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Bring chicken stock and ginger to a boil. Stir in sherry and sesame oil. Reduce to a simmer and add fresh asparagus and noodles (add canned asparagus at the last minute only to heat through). Cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in green onions and serve immediately.

Yield: Four servings

*Chicken Stock: In a stock pot, combine 1 1/2 quarts water, 3 pounds chicken back and neck pieces with skin, 1/2 lemon, 2 stalks celery cut in half, 2 carrots cut in half, and 5-6 peppercorns. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 3 to 4 hours. Pour through a fine strainer and skim fat from top.

 

Peking-style asparagus 

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, grated
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Heat oil in a large skillet over high. Add asparagus and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add garlic and ginger and cook 30 seconds, stirring.

Whisk stock, water, soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to skillet and cook until thickened and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, stirring. Serve immediately.

 

Asparagus onion casserole

  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium. Add asparagus and onion; cook until lightly crisp, 3 minutes. Transfer to an ungreased 1 ½-quart baking dish.

Add 2 tablespoons butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Add milk and cook until thickened, whisking to break down clumps.

Add cream cheese and cook until melted; mix well. Add salt, pepper and cheese and stir. Pour sauce over the asparagus and onions.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and breadcrumbs together over medium. Pour over prepared casserole.

Bake, uncovered, 40 to 50 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling.

 

Grilled Mexican asparagus and cheese tacos 

  • 4 yellow corn tortillas
  • 16 pieces asparagus, grilled
  • ¼ cup of Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • ¼ cup of white Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for brushing

Preheat grill.

For each taco, spread one quarter of the cheeses and 4 pieces of the asparagus on each tortilla, then season with salt and pepper. Fold in half and lightly brush the outside with olive oil.

Grill for 3 minutes on each side, or until the tortilla is crispy and cheese has melted.

www.asparagusrecipes.net

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