Cooking Cove: Asparagus – a harbinger of spring

Cooking Cove: Asparagus – a harbinger of spring

By Barbara Beltrami

Even in the days when we can access any produce from just about anywhere all year long, when asparagus show up in great quantities in the supermarket at lower prices, when the stalks are pencil thin and the tips tight, we know spring has arrived and we can abandon the brussels sprouts and winter squash that have sustained us through the fall and winter.

It is not uncommon for asparagus to make their seasonal debut at Easter or Passover dinner and then to show up on our tables in many forms and preparations throughout the spring. In addition to the usual steamed, roasted or grilled versions, delightful themselves, there are so many ways to take advantage of this tender green veggie. Ever think of making an asparagus bisque with crab meat? Asparagus pesto? An asparagus and haricot vert (thin French green bean) salad with tarragon vinaigrette? Read on.

Asparagus Bisque

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed, then cut into one-inch pieces

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 leek, white part only, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 ribs celery, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1 large potato, peeled and diced

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

½ cup cream or milk

½ pound fresh or frozen and defrosted lump crab meat, broken into bite-size pieces

Fresh chives, for garnish

DIRECTIONS: Steam asparagus until soft and just on the verge of turning yellowish green. Heat oil in a medium skillet; add onion, garlic, leek, celery and potato; sauté until onion, leek and celery are opaque, but not golden and potato is soft but not mushy. Add asparagus, salt and pepper and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Let cool until just warm and puree entire mixture in food processor until smooth. Add milk or cream and pulse a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with crab meat and chives. Serve topped with crackers or croutons.

Asparagus Pesto

Asparagus Pesto

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound fresh asparagus

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup pignoli nuts

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup Italian flat leaf parsley leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Wash and peel asparagus; snap off bottoms of stems. Slice into 2-inch pieces. Steam until asparagus are tender but still a nice bright green, 5 to 10 minutes depending on thickness of stems. Place in food processor; add remaining ingredients and process until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Serve at room temperature with linguine, spaghetti or any delicate pasta, gnocchi, crudités or toasted baguette slices.

Asparagus, Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound asparagus, steamed until tender but still bright green

1 pound green beans, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces and steamed until tender but still a bright green

12 cherry tomatoes, cut into wedges

½ cup minced Italian flat leaf parsley leaves

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

2 to 3 scallions, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, bruised

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of one medium fresh lemon

1 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard

1 level tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, minced or 1 teaspoon dried

Salt and pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl toss together the asparagus, green beans, tomatoes and parsley. In a small bowl vigorously whisk together the remaining ingredients to make the dressing. When ready to serve, toss veggies with dressing. Tastes best if not refrigerated. Serve with chicken or fish and crusty French bread.

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