COOKING WITH CHRISTIE: ASPARAGUS

By Christie Popp

 

Around 16 years ago, I discovered my town’s wonderful farmer’s market. I had never before understood the difference between store-bought produce and local produce at the market. But I was instantly converted. Since that time, I have been an outspoken advocate of buying locally and seasonally. 

 

If you haven’t yet been sold on the idea, there are so many reasons to shop locally and to eat seasonally. First, unless you love four or six lane sidewalk-less roads leading to endless strip malls more than you love farm and forestland, by all means continue to buy your produce from California and Chile at the supermarket. But if you think it is worth preserving the land around you, it’s important to support your local farmers. They cannot keep their farms without your support. Buying local also supports your local economy, rather than filling the pockets of big corporations in far away places. 

 

In most instances, buying from your local farmers is better for the environment. If you buy summer fruit in the dead of winter (and you do not live where it is warm), they were grown somewhere far away, picked before they were ripe, and shipped a long distance. Most often, the fruits and vegetables shipped from far away were produced on large-scale farms that do not use sustainable practices. They grow in huge monocultures, fertilized with (often) petroleum-based fertilizers, and sprayed with carcinogenic herbicides and pesticides. Local farmers, however, can farm in more sustainable ways that are good for the soil and for the wildlife around them. 

 

Locally grown produce is also healthier for you. Produce grown for shipment from California, Mexico, or Chile must be picked before the products ripen, and they lose nutrients the longer they sit between harvest and consumption. Local foods from your farmer’s market will most likely be picked a day or two before you buy, meaning they are riper, fresher, and more nutritious. 

 

Despite all of this, the number one reason that I buy local food? It tastes better. In order to ship fruits and vegetables all over the country (and the world), producers have to choose varieties bred, not for flavor or health, but for hardiness. In fact, in breeding for the ability to travel across the country, farmers have bred the taste right out of tomatoes. To me, this is the most important thing. I generally refuse to eat tomatoes, strawberries, asparagus, peaches, or corn out of season. It’s not worth it. Imported or shipped vegetables taste bland. Where is the pleasure in that? 

 

I am nothing if not the poster-child for delayed gratification. I love few things more than the first asparagus or strawberries or tomatoes or peaches of the year. I will gladly wait an entire year to eat asparagus just to savor the skinny green stalks my local farmer sells in the spring. They absolutely make those months of rutabagas and turnips worthwhile. 

 

Recipes

These three recipes celebrate my favorite spring vegetable and are all very easy and kid-friendly (particularly the pesto). 

 

1. Roasted Asparagus

The first bag of asparagus each year is destined for a simple roasting. This is my favorite way to prepare all vegetables, and it’s also a sure way to get my children to eat vegetables. They haven’t met a roasted vegetable that they didn’t like. There are two general ways to roast vegetables: Low and Slow (meaning low heat over a long period of time), which tends to produce softer, pillowy-er vegetables, or Hot and Fast. If I’m honest, I have to say I always choose hot and fast, mostly because I am usually in a hurry. 

 

You can serve the asparagus as a side dish, under a poached or fried egg, in a risotto, or even in a frittata 

The Ingredients


Ingredients:

  1. Asparagus
  2. Olive Oil
  3. Salt
  4. Pepper

 

Image from myrecipes.com

Image from myrecipes.com


The Process:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Cut off the “woody” end (if any) of the asparagus. You can also gently bend the stalk, and it will naturally break at the woody point.
  3. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Roast on a baking sheet until cooked to desired doneness. (I like my asparagus roasted until very tender and dark with caramelized bits, about 15-20 minutes)

 

2. Asparagus Pesto

I first “discovered” this recipe a few years ago when a friend made it to top crostini. It has quickly become a family favorite that can even fool the kid who claims to hate asparagus (or so I have discovered). The pesto is fantastic on top of pasta, but I also love it on crostini/bruschetta, or as a dip for crudité. This recipe is from Mark Bittman. 

 

The Ingredients 

  1. Salt
  2. 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
  3. 1 clove of garlic
  4. ¼ cup pine nuts (I have also used almonds with success)
  5. ¼ cup olive oil, plus more to taste
  6. ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  7. Freshly ground black pepper
  8. Juice of ½ Lemon (or to taste)

 

Image from fruiteandvegcity.co.za

Image from fruiteandvegcity.co.za

 

The Process: 

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the asparagus and cook until fully tender but not mushy, which is approximately 8-10 minutes.
  2. Reserve some of the cooking liquid. Drain well and let the asparagus cool slightly.
  3. Transfer asparagus to a food processor, add garlic, nuts, and 2 tbs of the oil, parmesan, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Process the mix, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary.
  4. Gradually add the remaining oil and, if necessary, a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse one more time to mix.
  5. Serve!

 

3. Asparagus Soup with a Poached Egg on Toast

This recipe comes (slightly adapted) from Jamie Oliver. We have made this in our family multiple times each spring for almost the last decade. The soup is delicious and smooth, and the egg yolk gives it a wonderful creaminess. Don’t be intimidated by poaching an egg. And if you really feel uncomfortable with poaching, I’m sure it would be just as good with a fried egg, over-easy on top. This recipe serves 8 

The Ingredients 

  1. 1 ¾ lb asparagus, woody ends removed
  2. olive oil
  3. 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
  4. 2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
  5. 2 leeks (white and light green) trimmed and chopped
  6. 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
  7. salt and pepper
  8. 8 eggs
  9. 8 slices crusty bread (such as ciabatta or sourdough)
Image from seriouseats.com

Image from seriouseats.com

 

The Process: 

  1. Chop the tips off of the asparagus and save for later. Roughly chop the stalks.
  2. Heat a pot over medium and add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Gently cook the onions, celery and leeks until softened but not browned, around 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped asparagus stalks and stock, and simmer for 20 minutes, covered.
  4. Remove from the heat and puree with an immersion blender or in a standard blender.
  5. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Put the soup back on the heat and stir in the asparagus tips. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the tips have softened.
  7. Before serving poach the eggs: with a wide pot or pan put in a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Crack a few of the eggs in the water. Cook for a couple of minutes and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. It is ok if the eggs do not look perfect. Do the same with the remaining eggs.
  8. Toast the slices of bread.
  9. To serve, divide the soup between bowls. Place a piece of toast into each bowl. Put a poached egg on top of the toast. Season with pepper and drizzle with olive oil.