On Your Table: Nothing says Spring like asparagus

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Delicious asparagus Chowder makes for a great spring dish.

Nothing screams spring more than asparagus, well maybe peas.

Even though it’s available all year long, asparagus is most perfectly cooked when locally available. That’s when it tastes the best. Steamed, boiled, sautéed, roasted, grilled — asparagus takes on different qualities however you cook it. Roasting and grilling concentrates the flavors versus boiling, and turns asparagus almost sweet. Even when steamed or boiled, asparagus retains the vegetable’s natural flavor.

Many people prefer a preparations with tender pencil-thin asparagus spears as their delicate texture makes them great for salads and even eaten raw. But the thicker ones do have their place.   They are more flavorful and they stand up better to cooking methods like grilling. Personally I prefer the thicker stems. You don’t even need to peel them.   Marinating in olive oil and garlic powder plus flavorings makes a big difference, but a little work with a peeler yields a perfectly tender yet tasty side dish or ingredient for dinner.

Mediterranean in origin, asparagus is now grown in almost everywhere. But fresher produce is nowhere found beyond our local growers markets in West Chester or Kennett Square.

You can get a lot of mileage out of a couple of bunches of asparagus, so long as you don’t gobble them up in one sitting. Once prepared and refrigerated or frozen they serve many purposes. Amped up with chicken, beef, pork or pasta they can afford a pretty substantial meal.

Here are some ideas for using asparagus for spring meals.

Throwing a brunch party anytime soon? Try a fresh spring frittata that features asparagus, fragrant leeks and meaty mushrooms. Adding greens like asparagus to eggs is a great way to give a boost of antioxidants along with vibrant color and flavor. Everyone can have a slice and feel healthier too.

Did I mention toast? For a appetizer to please everyone, try a simply satisfying recipe that combines sweet spring peas, fresh mint, and creamy ricotta. Bursting with flavor, color, and heart-healthy ingredients straight from the farmers’ market, a toast like this will soon become your new favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack—really, whatever you want it to be.

Some ways of preparation:

Roasting
Roasting is a great way to get a flavorful result. With the oven set at 400 degrees, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt on prepared asparagus and bake until crisp-tender, about 12-15 minutes.

Steam
Steaming is a quick and healthy way to cook asparagus. In a large pot fitted with a steam basket (and water below that) cook the asparagus, covered, until it turns bright green and is crisp-tender. This should take no longer than 3-5 minutes.

Simmer
In a saucepan with about an inch of water, simmer the asparagus for 3-5 minutes until bright green and crisp-tender.

Grill
Grilling produces a similar affect as roasting, but you get to do it while enjoying the nice new warm weather. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. On a heated grill, lay the spears perpendicular to the wires on the rack (you don’t want to lose your asparagus to the coals!). Grill for roughly 7-10 minutes.

Finally, a reliable dish that’s easy to make as well is one of my favorites. This is a chowder pairing leeks and potatoes with asparagus.

Asparagus, Leek & New Potatoe Chowder.

Ingredients:

3 tbs unsalted butter

2 leeks, white parts only, halved lengthwise and washed, sliced into ½ in pieces

1 lb unpeeled red potatoes cut in 1/3 inch dice

6 cups chicken stock, low sodium

2 lbs medium asparagus, trimmed, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces

½ cup heavy cream

Salt, pepper, chopped tarragon leaves & fresh cut parsley

Preparation:

Melt butter in a saucepan and add leeks, cooking till softened, about 7 miinutes. Add potatoes, chicken stock, spices and cook till potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.   Add asparagus and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer 2 cups of cooked vegetables to a food processor or blender. Add the cream and puree.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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