All through late spring and early summer, you'll find asparagus aplenty. A member of the lily family, these beautiful green spears signify warmer weather entertaining to me with their fresh, crisp taste and the splash of color that they add to any dish. Rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, and folic acid, these vegetables pack a wallop of nutrition while being delicious and versatile in preparation. Here are some tips for choosing, storing, and cooking asparagus for your next summer dinner party.
Buying and Storing
1) Firm stems. But you may ask-- thick or thin spears? The thick spears (female of the species) are better for grilling or using for soups since they are tougher and can withstand high heat for long cooking times. Choose pencil thin ones for roasting, stir-fry, or eating raw.
2) Tightly closed leaves at the tips. If they look worn, or have started to flower, then don't buy it as that asparagus was harvested too long ago and has started to lose its flavor and nutrients.
3) Store asparagus upright, if possible, with the stems wrapped in a wet paper towel to keep the stalks firm and crisp. But don't delay in using them!
1) Any way you cook it, be sure to remove the tough, woody end of the stems otherwise you'll end up with inedible, stringy parts that will ruin your otherwise wonderful dish. This is easy enough to do by breaking off the stem where the stalk wants to naturally break.
2)To roast asparagus: simply toss remaining stalks in olive oil, salt, and pepper than bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Freshen up with some citrus zest or fresh herbs, especially mint or thyme. Grilling is just as easy, but you may benefit from using a grill basket to keep from losing spears between your grill grates.
3) Try asparagus raw, either as crudite with a dip or even finely sliced using a mandolin so you have delicate little circles that you then toss with a light, lemony dressing and maybe some chopped, hard boiled egg and thin slices of prosciutto.
4) Then of course, there's soup. Here's a delicate recipe I put together, a beautiful introduction to any summer meal with a surprise hint of curry and a refreshing touch of yogurt with herbs...
Asparagus & Curry Soup
Take two pounds of medium thick asparagus, trimmed of toughed ends.
Cut tips from remaining stalks, about 1 to 2 inches long and split in half leng-wise.
Chop remaining stalks into 1/2 inch thick pieces.
Toss the tips with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until lightly caramelized.
Remove and reserve for garnish.
In the meantime, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.
Sweat 1 medium, finely chopped onion until softened but not brown, about 7-8 minutes.
Add the chopped asparagus stalks and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of flour and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 5 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock) then bring to a boil.
Simmer for 20-25 minutes or until asparagus stalks are tender.
Add in 1.5 teaspoons of yellow curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander, and 1/2 cup of heavy cream or sour cream.
Puree until smooth either with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender (careful not to blend more than 2 cups at a time and hold the lid down with a kitchen towel as the hot soup will expand while blending.)
Mix together 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon each of chopped fresh mint and chives, and 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest.
Serve in bowls, topped with a pinch of the roasted asparagus tips, a tablespoon of yogurt mix, and a drizzle of honey.
Yields 6-8 servings.