NEW YORK (AP): What better ingredient for a spring holiday meal than a seasonal food favorite like asparagus? It’s at the top of my can’t-wait-for-spring vegetable list.
Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted, baked, grilled, or broiled. Pretty much any way you can cook a vegetable.
It is harvested from February to June in various locales, with March and April being prime season in most places.
If you’re lucky, you might live in a part of the country where asparagus grows wild. Asparagus foragers look forward to the season, and hunt for their prey in ditches, ravines, next to streams and in various places near fresh water. Wild asparagus can be found across the U.S., mostly in rural areas.
In stores or at farmer’s markets, look for asparagus that is not too dried out at the cut ends. The tips should be tightly closed, without fraying or damage. The stalks should be firm and smooth, other than the tiny petal leaves that emerge. If the asparagus smells off, or looks wrinkled, withered or slimy, skip it.
To store asparagus, trim off an inch or so from the bottom and place the shoots in a tall, wide glass, vase or measuring cup with a couple of inches of water. Loosely cover the tops with a plastic bag and store in the fridge for three to seven days.
Before it’s cooked, a rinse under cold water is usually all that asparagus needs. If you are preparing it using a dry heat method, like roasting or grilling, dry it before cooking.
Asparagus usually cooks in about 6 to 14 minutes, depending on the cooking method, the thickness of the stalks and, of course, how tender or crisp you like it. Remember, it will continue to “cook” and soften after it leaves the heat.
The most traditional kitchen technique for trimming asparagus is to hold the stalk in the middle and near the bottom end and snap it. This removes the woody and fibrous bottom few inches of the stalk.
I think that method wastes more stalk than necessary, especially if you are preparing thick asparagus. Better to simply take a vegetable peeler and peel the thick green outer layer from the bottom 3 inches or so of the stalk. For thin asparagus, just cut off the bottom inch or so.
Steaming: Put the asparagus on a rack or in a basket suspended over simmering water in a pot with the lid on. If you don’t have a steamer apparatus, add them to just a small amount of water simmering in a covered pot.
Boiling: Simply include more water in the pot than you would for steaming. I prefer steaming, as I feel less of the flavor is lost to the cooking water.
Blanching: Cook the asparagus briefly in boiling water, then immediately drain the water and plunge the vegetable into ice water. This softens it slightly but then stops the cooking, sealing in the bright green color.
Roasting: One of my favorite ways to cook asparagus. Its natural sugars are concentrated by the oven’s high heat, and you get a lovely golden exterior. I roast them at 400 to 425 degrees F.
Grilling: Just make sure to position the spears perpendicular to the grates so you don’t lose any. Or use a grill basket.
Raw: If your asparagus is very fresh, you can slice the spears and use them raw in salads or as part of a vegetable (crudité) platter. Peel or trim off tough ends or the thicker skins at the bottom.
And if you have extra asparagus, lucky you — it freezes beautifully, especially if it’s been blanched, which locks in the best texture and color.
2 pounds thin asparagus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 onions, chopped 2 stalks celery, sliced Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried 1 small potato, peeled and diced (about ¾ cup) 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth, preferably less-sodium 1 cup light or heavy cream or half-and-half Freshly grated Parmesan to serve
Trim off the bottom inch of the asparagus stalks, or any amount that seems woody, and discard. Place about half of the asparagus in a line on a cutting board and trim off the top 1 inch. Set those tips aside. Cut the rest of the spears into 2-inch pieces.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft and lightly golden. Add the thyme, potatoes and broth.
Turn the heat to high, bring the soup to a simmer, add the pieces of asparagus (reserving the tips), and then lower the heat and partially cover the pot. (Place the lid so there is a roughly 1-inch gap for steam to escape). Simmer the soup until the asparagus is very tender, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the reserved asparagus tips into a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat, simmer for 1 minute, then drain and run the asparagus tips under very cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender in the pot, or in batches in a food processor or blender. If it doesn’t seem silky smooth, you can pass it through a mesh strainer, pressing the soup through and discarding any solids that are strained out. Return the soup to the pot, add the cream and heat over medium heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as you like.
When the soup is hot throughout (don’t let it come to a boil!), serve in bowls garnished with Parmesan and the blanched asparagus tips. Top with a bit of additional freshly ground pepper, if desired.