Friday, April 26, 2013

What's in Season Now: Asparagus

These are done: bright green and still slightly crisp
Asparagus isn't the cheapest vegetable out there, even when it is in season. But, it's way, way more expensive when it is out of season, so we snap it up when the price drops below $2 per pound. There is a fair amount of waste, so, definitely not a budget item. Think of it as a treat of spring, a way to lavish goodness on a loved one.

Asparagus is great hot, warm, or chilled. It cooks in no time. It is delicious prepared in the most simple way. You can eat it with your fingers!

A pound of asparagus will feed 4-5 people though we love it so much in my house, it barely feeds 3 sometimes.

Let's talk about cleaning asparagus. How you clean it up depends on the thickness of the stalks. If the stalks are thin, the best way to get rid of the woody parts is as follows:

  • Hold stalk at woody end in one hand and in the middle with the other.
  • Bend the stalk until it snaps
  • It breaks where the woody part starts
If the stalks are big enough to peel, you can cut off about an inch of the woody end, then peel off the tough green layer, using a vegetable peeler. I prefer thick stems; I think if you are willing to go to the trouble of peeling them, you will get more asparagus for your money. But, sometimes, all you can find is thin stalks. Best to know both ways to handle your asparagus.

You can steam it, you can boil it, you can roast it, but broiling (or if you have the grill on, grilling) is the easiest, tastiest, and fastest way to cook asparagus.

If you are broiling it in the oven, place the asparagus on a cookie sheet that can handle the high temperature of the broiler. Drizzle on just a little bit of oil, maybe a teaspoon per pound. Toss the asparagus on the sheet to get it well-covered with the oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper. Stick under the broiler for a few minutes until asparagus starts to sizzle. Toss and broil for another minute or two. How long will depend on how thick the asparagus stalks are. Even thick stalks are done in under 10 minutes. You want bright green asparagus, maybe with a little bit of brown or char (particularly if you are grilling them). Do not overcook - pull them out before they are soft and limp.

If you want to fancy it up, you can:
  • Sprinkle on a spice blend like curry or jerk seasoning.
  • Sprinkle on some dried herbs. I really like Penzey's Sunny Paris blend (also really tasty in tomato soup).
  • Sprinkle on some fresh herbs when it comes out of the oven. 
  • Sprinkle on some flavorful oil, like high quality extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil, or a squeeze of citrus juice when it comes out of the oven.

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