By Beverly Barbour
You can stalk asparagus this time of year right into California where 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. supply is grown. Did you know that this fast-growing vegetable sprints up 7 to 10 inches of new growth every day?
What is asparagus: It is actually a member of the lily family which makes it a cousin to onions, leeks and garlic. One of the family characteristics is that they all produce a certain sulfurous smell. You probably wouldn't have noticed that had I not told you. Shame on me. Green asparagus is low in calories, has no fat and is a good source of fiber, folic acid, potassium and vitamins B1, B6 and C. Plus, the smell dissipates as the vegetable cooks.
How to buy asparagus: If you grow your own, you are indeed lucky, fresh asparagus is such a treat. If you buy it, do not choose any spears that are wrinkled or soft. Be sure that the tips are closed, dry and intact (they sometimes fall off of the stem).
How to store asparagus: It is best to store them in the refrigerator with cut ends in water. When I bring it home from the store, I cut about an inch off of the stalks and store them upright in a 2-cup measuring cup with a couple of inches of cold water. Then place a plastic bag over the tops of the asparagus, leaving the bottom open so that the air circulates. The spears live on in the refrigerator perky as can be, just waiting to jump onto a plate and join everyone at the table.
Before you cook asparagus: When you are getting ready to cook, take each stem and bend it, starting at the bottom then moving upward until the stalk easily snaps apart. This is where the tough, dry, fibrous portion ends and the tender part begins.
Oven Roasted Asparagus
Try this simple recipe when you have the oven cooking the Easter ham, or make it in your toaster oven to serve with leftovers. Makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
Preheat oven to 400 F. Rinse asparagus; snap off tough stem ends and discard. Spread asparagus in a baking pan and drizzle with plain olive oil, then shake pan lightly to coat asparagus. Or, you can just roll each piece to coat it with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Bake until asparagus is tender but crisp to the bite, about 9 or 10 minutes. Before serving sprinkle with lemon peel and lemon juice or flavored oil. The spears can be served warm or at room temperature which is a blessing for the busy cook.
Flatbread with Bacon or Ham and Asparagus
If time permits you can make your own flatbread, in a hurry you can buy pizza crust, puff pastry or filo. Anyway you choose, you will have a colorful, delicious dish. You can substitute cooked ham pieces instead of the bacon. In the unlikely event that there is any left, enjoy it with soup or salad the next day. Makes 8 servings.
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Dough: combine water and yeast in large bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until blended. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (8 minutes); add enough flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands (it will still feel sticky). Place dough in a large bowl coated with oil or spray, turning to coat all around. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Press 2 fingers into dough, if an indentation remains the dough is ready.
Topping: While dough rises heat a small skillet and sautÃ© thyme, bacon pieces, and garlic; when bacon is crisp, stir in pepper. Preheat oven to 475 F. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Roll the dough into a 10-inch circle on a floured surface. Place dough on a greased baking sheet. Spread topping evenly over dough. Arrange the asparagus over topping; sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve in wedges.
Ham or Pork Fried Rice
This is a delicious way to use leftover rice, ham, and/or asparagus. If you don't have leftover rice, cook 2/3 cup rice before starting this recipe. The cooked rice should be fully chilled before you begin making this recipe to avoid overcooking. Makes 2 servings.
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Combine soy cause, rice vinegar and sesame oil in small bowl. Set aside. Place a wok or heavy frying pan over high heat. When hot, add 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil and swirl around to heat up. Add scallions, mushrooms, garlic and chile flakes. Stir fry until browned, about 2 minutes. Add pork or ham and asparagus. Stir until just barely heated, about 1 minute. Move the cooked food to the sides of the pan and add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the pan. When hot, reduce heat and add rice. Stir-fry until the rice separates and softens, about 3 minutes. Quickly toss the contents of the pan with the soy sauce mixture, then season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with hot sauce.
Asparagus is worth seeking and eating