Wednesday, April 6, 2011

30 (ish) Ways to Cook Your Asparagus

Asparagus has been at the grocery for a few months now. You can follow its extended season on a map as it winds its way up the pacific side of the Americas. The first crop arrives from Chile around Christmas. The trade moves up to Peru in the first month of the year. By early spring, asparagus is getting trucked in from Mexico – lowering the price and expanding the availability from west coast urban centers to, you know those other places people live.


This is good/bad. Food miles divided by availability minus undercutting local growers ability to grow and price competitively – food has gotten to be a hard math. Although it makes locavores weep each time I say things like this, I like having, fresh, affordable asparagus in the markets from early spring to the end of Michigan’s season in late summer. Mexican asparagus is a buck-ninety-ninety per pound at the store. This morning it was 39 degrees and raining, the local crop hasn’t arrived even though I know today’s asparagus undercuts the regional grower’s premium for being first to market.

This geographical extension of the season means I get to eat my favorite veg a little more often and gone are the days when the season was so short that I’d get 3 to 5 meals out of the veg and move on. NowI have to stretch the culinary horizons. I start the season the same, saffron risotto and chopped asparagus. Spears folded in the center of an omelet made of really good farm eggs, then there is the annual blini’s topped with tips, morels & garlic shoots that have been sautéed in butter. Good years always see a few spears making there way for an asparagus sandwich - tossed in baguette with melted brie and red onion that has been macerated in vinegar = pretty good. Even though I haven’t made this in a few years, Marcella Hazan’s asparagus bundled in a slice of prosciutto with fontina roasted in the over was a spring favorite for a long time.

Now with the extended season there is time for grilled with polenta wedges, sautéed with sesame oil and black sesame seeds, steamed with butter and lemon zest, or not as horrifically wrong as it sounds; microwaved, then served with a vinaigrette – mustard or sesame ginger. Not to get all eggy about stuff, there is the option of the egg sauces of aioli, hollandaise or mayo? Or hard boiled eggs, cumin and paprika, rolled in crepes

The trick to serving asparagus as a main course is finding flavors that hold up to the vegetable’s bold flavor without overwhelming it. Like red Thai curry, beef and asparagus; with or without peanut sauce and rice, rolled in a flattened (scaloppini’d) chicken breasts or same idea but instead roll the asparagus in a thick slice of ham and top with a mustard sauce.

Because a life without carbohydrates is no life at all, asparagus can be part of creamy garlic sauce and fettuccini, orzo with lemon dressing, soba, bulgur, sweet potato or rice vermicelli or not from a box mac & cheese - Cheddar is a cheese but not all cheeses are cheddar…

On the fishy side, asparagus can go with crab cakes, trout and asparagus, sauce tuna, shrimp, ginger and asparagus, smoked salmon, asparagus and corn. And if need be, there is soup and salad: Chicken soup, rice and asparagus soup with lemongrass, wild rice salad or lentil, asparagus & goat cheese salad.

Now I must cook some lunch. 

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