Asparagus is such a true herald of spring. The spears of this fairy fern brave the last of the winter onslaught to bring us dreams of renewal. We love them hot, we love them cold. We dunk green stems in warm butter with a squeeze of lemon or in wickedly rich hollandaise sauce made with safely organic eggs. We peel the big thick naughty-looking white ones at the base, steam and cool them and dip them in mustardy vinaigrette like they do on the boulevards of Paris and Milan. There are even the wild kind collected painstakingly from the edge of streams and ditches, thin as a Giacometti statue, and so easy to overcook you have to take special care or you’ll lose the ethereal flavor and be left with a woody chopstick!
Mel and I have spent so much of our lives singing the praises of seasonal produce, ripe produce and local produce that we are saddened somewhat to find asparagus eaten throughout the year on too many hotel and restaurant menus. Half the joy of asparagus is waiting for its arrival. Like a birthday gift that comes but once a year asparagus has such a short season locally that we eat it every day and every way during those first Spring pickings. Of course, schoolboys, the world over, have held contests to find exactly how quickly asparagus can be digested before leaving its very distinctive perfume when they tinkle (I believe the record was recorded in Oxford, England at 7 minutes)!
Here is a tried and true way to steam asparagus without all the tying up in string and cutting to equal lengths and pulling about with tongs and cranes. I include a recipe afterwards from the Calamity cook. Overcooking asparagus when I’m on the telephone is one of my specialties!
Steamed Green Asparagus4 Servings
Count out 6-10 spears for each person. Wash off any grit and then cut off the woody bottom part (if any) and then also cut an inch or two off each stem and set aside for soups or other uses (see ideas at end). There are some basic ways to cook asparagus – steam it, boil it or grill or roast it.
You can tie up the trimmed spears with string and place them in about 2 inches of boiling salted water, sprinkle with salt and steam them with lid tightly shut for 3 – 4 minutes…
Cut the stems shorter and place in steamer basket, sprinkle with salt & do the same…
You can boil ½ inch salted water in a frying pan or any shallow pan, lay out the spears, sprinkle again with salt and boil with lid tightly shut 3 – 4 mins…
You can place directly over charcoal grill, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and grill 2 mins on one side and, using tongs, 2 minutes on other side…
Brush a baking sheet with butter or olive oil, sprinkle with chili flakes & salt, lay out spears, sprinkle again lightly with salt and roast in high oven for about 5 – 6 mins or until the tips appear colored.
Don’t overcook! Asparagus is lovely when bitable not mushy. *See Footnote Below
Serve hot or cold with your favorite “dunking” sauce. Here are some of mine:
- Melted butter processed in blender with a slice or two of red bell pepper (bottled or fresh grilled and peeled) and a squirt of lemon.
- Olive oil processed with a teaspoon of chopped fresh tarragon or mint leaves.
- Finely chopped and sautéed shallot or scallion stirred into mayonnaise.
- Finely chopped fresh basil leaves in sour cream or yogurt.
White asparagus can be steamed in the same way as above but peel off the woody outer layer of the stem and leave whole. Do not overcook this kind or they turn to mush! Leave them firm to the bite and they will remain hard even when cold.
Enjoy with a chilled bottle of
Tortoise Creek Chardonnay “Jam’s Blend”!
Calamity Janie’s dishes if you DO overcook the asparagus
Asparagus has a beastly habit of overcooking much too easily. A grandchild falling down, an inopportune ‘phone call, the mail man asking for a signature, there are myriads of duties calling for that extra minute when the asparagus is unguarded and either wilts into something needing Viagra or turns a horrid brown and collapses altogether. Never fear- Jane is here!
- Chop up the offending stems into bite-sized pieces. Pile into a hollowed out beefsteak tomato shell, ½ an avocado, ½ fresh bell pepper (the yellow ones re so pretty) or ½ a peeled papaya. Spoon over your sauce of choice and serve sprinkled with chopped herbs to hide and discoloration of the asparagus.
- Chop up the stems into little pieces. Beat up 1 egg (or 2 tablespoons Eggbeaters) per ¼ pt cream and mix into some heavy cream and season with salt, black pepper, and a pinch nutmeg and toss in asparagus. Sprinkle with grated parmesan or cheddar cheese. Pour into individual ramekins or ovenproof dish. Place dishes in roasting pan and pour in boiling water to ½ way up side of dish. Bake at 300 in oven for about 20-30 mins until set. Serve warm or cold.
- Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces and process with skim milk to make soup. Add chicken stock base or vegetable base to taste. I also add parsley into the processor to enhance the color. Simmer gently and season again with black pepper. I serve mine cold from the ‘fridge with a sprinkle of chopped scallion and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche. If you serve it hot throw in a cooked shrimp or two when you heat it up for extra flair.