Oh little spear, can any veggie surpass you in our culinary dreams?
You spring up when winter takes leave, offering deep, earthy flavor, ease of preparation and nutrients to boast.
Let us count the ways we adore you, oh mighty spear.
Nutrient Wise; A single, half-cup cooked serving (about 5-8 spears) contains only 20 calories and a ton of nutrients, with heart-healthy folate (a B-vitamin) leading the way.
Folate helps protect against neural tube defects making it an important part of any maternity diet.
Other nutrients include beta carotene, iron, vitamin-C and K, plus fiber.
Smart Shopping; Check the asparagus ends.
If they’re woody, dried and cracked, avoid them.
Tips should be tightly closed.
Look for uniformity in size or else cooking times will go askew.
The Dirt Lurks; It’s easy to ruin a potential asparagus feast with grit and sand.
Dirt likes to lurk in the stem ends, so soak your spears in warm water, swish well and rinse before prepping.
To Snap or To Cut?
Aficionados promote the snap to remove the butt end because it detaches the inedible, woody end and doesn’t remove any of the edible part, which is a risk you take when using a knife.
Purists suggest holding the center of the stalk with one hand and grab the base with your other hand and bend gently until it snaps.
Don't be intimidated, it's really very easy.
Cooking's a Snap As Well!
Steam, boil, microwave or stir-fry those spears.
The key is to stop cooking at the crucial, tender-crisp stage.
Roasting is easy too, and accentuates the super veggie flavor.
Mix 1 lb. of the spears with 2 tbsp. olive oil and one minced garlic clove.
Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 450 °F/ 230 °C for 10-12 minutes, turning once halfway through.
Season with sea salt and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Flavor Favor; This super vegetable, combined with herbs, are a match made in heaven.
Do yourself a flavor favor and try basil, pesto, thyme, chives, parsley, or cilantro, heck, just about anything goes.
Chinese flavorings like sesame oil, soy, teriyaki and black bean sauce all sing in harmony.
Remember, the assertive taste of this super vegetable wakes up pasta, rice, eggs and polenta.
Doing Double Duty; Steam up twice the amount you need.
Serve half dressed in butter with dinner and marinate the other half in your flavorite (:o) dressing.
There’s lunch tomorrow!
Now here's a recipe that we're certain will become a family fave.
Cream of Asparagus Soup (Crème D'asperges)
One of the highlights of the springtime harvest for us is the arrival of fresh local asparagus.
And, yes, nowadays you can find it in the markets virtually year-round thanks to international shipping.
But the finest flavor and texture will almost always come from fresh grown, closer to home and quickly whisked to market after harvest.
I especially like the so-called "pencil" variety.
As the name applies, these super spears are as thin as pencils, being harvested while still very young, and they have a subtle flavor and delicate texture that seems to us, to be the essence of spring.
The pencil variety need very little in the way of preparation.
All you have to do is rinse them and then bend them near their cut stem ends to snap off any woody part.
They are so tender and mild that you can even serve them raw as part of a vegetable platter with dips.
To cook them, they turn perfectly al dente, tender but still slightly crisp, after just a couple of minutes of steaming, boiling, grilling, or, if first cut into bite-sized pieces, stir-frying.
But one of my favorite ways to prepare these early crops is to turn them into a subtly flavorful, beautiful pale green asparagus soup.
For such a preparation, you just have to chop up the asparagus spears into small pieces and then simmer them in a mixture of mildly onion-scented broth and cream.
(I also sometimes like to add a touch of honey, which gently highlights the vegetable's touch of natural sweetness.)
Once the asparagus is tender, all that remains to do is puree it in a food processor or blender, pass it through a sieve to remove any fibers and achieve absolute smoothness, and then add a final accent of fresh lemon juice.
The result of this process that takes less than half an hour is a bright, light-green soup that tastes like springtime in a bowl.
Serve it as the first course of your dinner, and then go on enjoying it regularly as long as these super vegetables are in season.
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 c. finely chopped yellow onion
4 c. organic chicken broth
2 c. heavy cream, plus 1/2 c. extra lightly whipped for optional garnish
2 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. salt, plus extra as needed
1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepper, plus extra as needed
2-1/2 lbs. fresh organic pencil-thin asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. chopped fresh Italian parsley or chives
Heat the olive oil in a nonreactive pot over medium heat.
Add the butter.
When it foams, add the onion, reduce the heat to low and saute, stirring frequently, until the onion turns translucent and very tender, about 7 to 10 minutes, taking care not to let the onion brown.
Stir in the broth, 2 c. cream, honey, salt, and pepper.
Raise the heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for 5 minutes.
Stir in the asparagus and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the stove.
Working in batches to avoid overfilling, and remember to work carefully with hot liquids to avoid spattering, use a food processor or blender to puree the soup.
As each batch is pureed, pour it into a fine-meshed strainer held over a large mixing bowl, pressing it through with a rubber spatula and then discarding the fibers left in the strainer.
Return the pureed soup to the pot and reheat gently, stirring in the lemon juice.
Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasonings with more salt and white pepper.
Ladle the soup into heated bowls.
If you like, add a dollop of whipped cream to each serving.
Serve immediately, garnished with parsley or chives.
Cook's Note: The soup will keep, covered and chilled, 2 days.
If making ahead, add last tablespoon butter and lemon juice after reheating.
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