Quick & Easy|
By Beverly Barbour
Asparagus spears have charged into the market
You know that spring has sprung when asparagus spears take mother earth's temperature and poke their heads up to find the sun. Asparagus comes in two colors, white and green. The French prefer the white variety feeling it is more versatile than the green. It has a stronger taste with just a hint of bitterness. Most of us on the other side of the Atlantic prefer the green. The green is usually less expensive which may affect that preference.
All recipes can be prepared with either one, or both, varieties. Asparagus seems to have a love affair with eggs and with salty meats like ham or prosciutto. White asparagus has a special affinity for balsamic or wine vinegar with Parmesan or other dry, sharp cheese and needs no other trimmings.
You could make an entire menu with nothing but asparagus served in a variety of ways, and if you are lucky enough to have an asparagus plot of your very own, you probably have an entire litany of recipes to keep you from being bored.
Roasted Sesame Asparagus
Lynn Brandt of Franklin, Penn., came up with this very easy and fast recipe when she was looking for something to bring to a potluck. Makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears
Preheat oven to 450 F. Snap off tough ends of asparagus and then wash the stalks and heads. Arrange asparagus in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray or oil or in a frying pan with an oven-proof handle. Brush spears with sesame oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until crisp-tender; remove pan from oven. Add vinegar, sesame seeds and red pepper to asparagus, tossing gently to combine. Place spears on a platter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with cheese and serve.
White Asparagus with Parmesan Deep-Fried Eggs
This recipe came from a friend who found it on a long, boring flight to India. It has very detailed directions for creating a cooking miracle called "Scotch Eggs." When your guests find that their deep-fried egg has a runny yolk and is in no way a hard-cooked egg, the ooh's and aah's begin. The eggs by any name are pretty sensational but practice on the family first. The recipe makes a starter course for 4 people or dinner for 2.
2 + pounds of asparagus
Peel asparagus, laying each spear on a board, holding and turning it by the tip and peeling the stalk, taking care to remove all the fibrous outer covering. Trim the bases, cutting away the dry, exposed ends. Wash asparagus and wrap in a damp cloth. Bring a small but reasonably deep pot of water to a boil; add a dessert spoon of vinegar. Meanwhile, break 4 of the very fresh eggs into 4 cups. Slip one of the eggs into the boiling water, just at the point that it is boiling most vigorously. It will fall to the bottom and come back to the surface with the white completely enclosing the yolk. As the water resumes boiling, repeat the process for each egg in turn. As soon as the first egg feels "set," the whites reasonably firm but the yolks completely runny, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and immerse in a bowl of iced water to arrest the cooking process. When the eggs are cold, remove them from the water and trim away any frilly trails so that have near-perfect eggs. Dry them on a cloth.
Prepare 3 bowls: one with 4 tablespoons of flour, one with the remaining egg, beaten with a tablespoon of milk, and the third with the Parmesan and bread crumbs mixed together. Roll each of the poached eggs in the flour, then dip the in the beaten egg and then roll in the cheese mixture. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil and drop in the asparagus. Bring back to a low boil and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or less, just so that it is cooked through and is no longer fibrous. Remove it from the pan and keep warm, preferably covered, in a warming oven (could use a toaster oven). Heat the olive oil very carefully in a small saucepan. It needs to be very hot but not smoking. Tilt the pan away from you slightly, drop in each egg very gently, taking care that the oil does not boil over. Fry the eggs for 2 minutes at a moderate heat. They should be a lovely golden brown color and feel as though they are beginning to firm a little. Remove from heat. Very quickly dress the asparagus with some salt, pepper and olive oil. Pour a thin stream of the balsamic vinegar in a pretty pattern over and around the asparagus. Place the deep-fried eggs on top of asparagus and take to the table.
Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Croutons
You can make this soup using tap water but chicken broth will give it a richer flavor. If you have time you can get more of the asparagus flavor by gathering all of the snapped-off ends of the asparagus spears together, wrap them in cheesecloth and tie a knot to keep the tough guys in the cloth. Place the bundle in the water to simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the bundle and discard. Add the chopped asparagus spears to the broth and get on with the recipe. An immersion blender won't pulverize the asparagus (because asparagus is very fibrous); a regular blender or food processor will do a better job. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
2 tablespoons butter
Soup: Melt butter in stockpot. Thinly slice the leeks (you should have about 3 cups) and saute in the butter until very tender, stirring often. Snap off woody ends of asparagus where they naturally break. Slice the asparagus into 2-inch lengths. Place asparagus, bay leaf, broth and seasonings in with the leeks; cover and simmer until asparagus is very tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Return to heat and check the seasoning to your taste.
Croutons: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Slice the baguette into 3/8-inch slices (about 20 slices). Toss the slices with olive oil, and then spread out on a baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the goat cheese with the herbs, shallots, salt and pepper to taste. Add a little bit of milk or cream if needed to make a spreading consistency. Flip over the toasts and spread each with about 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Then return to the oven until the cheese is a bit dry, 5 to 8 minutes. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Cut the toasts into quarters to serve on the soup or you can float whole slices of toast on the soup, which is pretty, but harder to eat.
Don't spare the asparagus it is full of vitamin a!