By Beverly Barbour
Spear asparagus for dinner tonight
If you don't have asparagus in your garden stick your green thumb in the soil and two springs later you will be rewarded with the easy to grow perennial that proudly announces spring is here year after year.
Asparagus doesn't grow boring because there are so many ways to prepare this terrific source of Vitamin A (you can tell by the green color). Another plus is that it is quick and easy to prepare and to cook.
Before cooking snap off the stem where it breaks easily. Most people throw the bottom end into the compost pot but others peel the skin away and then slice it very thin. Often the bottom end can be cooked and pureed for use in soup and there are a wide variety of ways to prepare the tender top of the stalk.
The many ways asparagus is versatile
1. Salads: Slice tips and tender part of the stalks very thinly on the diagonal. Add the raw slices to tossed salads or cook with eggs when scrambling.
2. Grilled/broiled: Mix asparagus with some olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill or broil until tender and starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Steamed: Cook asparagus in steamer over boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes or steam in microwave. Serve drizzled with a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, and chopped fresh mint or well crushed dried mint.
4. Stir-fried: Cut asparagus into bite-size pieces and stir over high heat in a little hot chile oil with minced garlic and ginger until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Splash on a touch of rice wine vinegar or dry sherry at the end. You can make your own chili oil by heating olive oil with hot pepper flakes.
5. Gratin: Arrange stalks of asparagus in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese. Bake in 400 F. oven until tender and cheese is melted and browning, about 10 minutes. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Barbara McClintock's Cream of Asparagus Soup
Barbara is a well-known author and illustrator of children's books. She is one very busy lady. Her simple preparation concentrates on the asparagus itself for flavor. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
2 pounds fresh asparagus
Break off the tough bottom of the stalk and discard. Remove the tip of the asparagus and set aside. Cut the edible stalk into 1/2-inch pieces. Make a roux to slightly thicken the soup. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a pan and whisk in 6 tablespoons of flour until smooth. Do not let it brown. Remove pan from heat and gradually whisk in the chicken stock, blending until smooth. Return to heat and stir until it comes to a boil. Add the cut up asparagus and chopped onion. Simmer for 20 minutes. Put the cooked mixture in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Return to the saucepan, add asparagus tips and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for about 20 seconds. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and add salt and pepper, to taste.
Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs
It is best to have the asparagus spears all about the same diameter so that they will all be cooked through at about the same time. The runny yolks of the fried eggs make a "sauce" for the asparagus, so be sure not to overcook the eggs. Ideally, the asparagus and eggs should be done at the same time but it is better to make the cooked asparagus wait for the eggs than to have the eggs get cold while you finish cooking the asparagus. Makes 4 servings.
2 pounds asparagus
Preheat oven to 450 F. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus spears. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish and toss the spears with your hands to coat asparagus evenly with oil. Arrange them in a single layer in the baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Bake until the spears are sizzling and tender, about 10 minutes. About 2 minutes before asparagus are done, heat large skillets with the butter over medium heat. Cook the eggs, seasoning with salt and pepper. Let them set briefly (about 1 minute) and then carefully flip and cook on the second side only until white is firm, about 30 seconds. Be sure to leave the yolk runny. Top each serving of asparagus with a fried egg and serve pronto.
Asparagus, Scallion and Goat Cheese Quiche
If you don't care for goat cheese you can substitute your favorite cheese or a combination of cheeses--just be sure they melt. You can bake this in a ready made pie crust if you wish but this shell is flaky, buttery and delicious. The dough comes together quickly in the food processor and the rolling out is absolutely foolproof. You can make it a day or two ahead and serve it warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
Crust: Combine flour and salt in a food processor; pulse 2 times or until combined. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Pulse 4 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, add ice water through food chute, processing just until combined (do not form a ball). Press dough gently into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover and chill 20 minutes. Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap and place chilled dough on plastic wrap. Cover with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove 2 sheets of plastic wrap; let stand 1 minute or until pliable. Fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch pie plate lightly coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of pan; fold edges under and flute. Line pastry with foil and place dried beans on foil. Bake at 425 F. for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove beans and foil. Reduce temperature to 350 F. Bake crust an additional 5 minutes or until pastry is golden. Remove pan from oven, and cool on a rack.
Filling: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet. Add asparagus to pan. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt and some pepper over asparagus; saute until crisp-tender, stirring often. Add onions; saute 2 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Remove from heat. Spoon asparagus mixture into prepared shell and arrange goat cheese in an even layer over asparagus. Beat eggs and egg yolk; combine with milk and pour over asparagus and cheese. Return to oven and bake until the cheese has melted and the eggs have set.