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Celebrate Spring Asparagus With 3 New Ideas

Freshly cut asparagus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Freshly cut asparagus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

One of the things I love best about living in deepest southern Alsace, France, is that we have proper seasons. Each season brings its own special treat: In fall we get gorgeous ceps and chanterelles, freshly foraged or sourced at the farmers market. During winter it’s the turn of a whole range of seasonal sausages, recalling a time when by tradition the family pig was slaughtered and sausages were freshly made.

Early spring brings lamb’s lettuce (aka mâche), which grows wild throughout the vineyards, and wild garlic (ramps or ramsons) from damp corners of the forest. Morels, those delectable, sponge-like mushrooms that point their wrinkled noses up through the newly green pastures (or, if you’re lucky, among the wood chippings in your newly planted rose bed), are another seasonal delicacy. A little later comes rhubarb, which finds its way into sublime, meringue-topped tarts. Right now, as spring gets fully into its stride, asparagus is having a moment.

For anyone who has never visited Alsace in May or June, it’s difficult to convey the almost religious fervor associated with this wonderful vegetable. During its brief but intense season, some restaurants give themselves over entirely to serving nothing but great, steaming mounds of asparagus. (The standard portion is about 2 pounds per person.) Huge trestle tables and long wooden benches are the order of the day; napkins are tucked into collars in time-honored French fashion and the feast gets underway. The mighty white spears are served naked and unadorned save for thin slices of ham (cooked, cured and smoked) and a choice of mayonnaise, Hollandaise or vinaigrette sauces.

Here are three recipes that make much of both the green and white kinds.

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Salad With Asparagus, Ham and Soft-Boiled Eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

8 ounces green asparagus (about 10 spears)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt

2 eggs

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon mild mustard

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons vinegar

A pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs in season (parsley, tarragon, mint, chives, lovage

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 good handfuls mixed salad leaves (iceberg, Little Gem, lamb’s lettuce, arugula, etc.)

4 slices cooked or cured ham, cut in thin strips

Thinly sliced radishes (optional)

Directions

1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and lay the trimmed spears in a small roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in a hot oven (400 F, 200 C) for 10 to 15 minutes until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife (timing will depend on thickness). Shake the pan once or twice so they roll around and cook evenly. Alternately, cook in a ridged grill pan over high heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife, shaking once or twice. Set asparagus aside.

2. Put two eggs in a small pan of cold water, bring to a boil and count 3 minutes from when the water starts to boil. Drain the eggs, place them in cold water until cool, then peel. Leave them whole.

3. For the dressing, place the mustard, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, chopped herbs and salt and pepper in a jam jar, cover with a lid and shake vigorously until emulsified.

4. To assemble the salads, place a selection of salad leaves on plates, arrange asparagus spears on top, scatter with ham strips and optional radishes and place an egg on top of each one. Drizzle with some dressing.

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Green and White Asparagus Stacks With Herby Vinaigrette and Prosciutto or Smoked Salmon. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 10 minutes to assemble the stacks

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound each of white and green asparagus

A sprinkling of sea salt, plus a pinch more for boiling water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

A good handful of mixed tender herbs (flat-leaf parsley, lovage, chives, tarragon)

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon vinegar (use sherry, white wine or cider vinegar)

Salt and pepper to taste

10 ounces soft fresh goat’s cheese

6 thin slices prosciutto or smoked salmon

Flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Directions

1. Peel the white asparagus, making sure not to leave any tough strips of peel, and trim the green asparagus.

2. Put all peelings and trimmings in a saucepan with the stalks from the herbs, cover with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Strain this herby stock, put it back into the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to about a cup by fast boiling.

4. Lay both sorts of asparagus in one layer in a roasting pan, sprinkle with a little olive oil and coarse salt and roast for 10-15 minutes in a 425 F (220 C) oven or until a knife inserted in the thickest part feels tender. You can also boil or steam the asparagus 10 to 15 minutes if you prefer.

5. For the herby vinaigrette, place the chopped shallot, herbs, reduced stock, oil and vinegar in the blender and blend until smooth — seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

6. To assemble the dish, cut the soft fresh goat’s cheese in very thin slices and arrange on each plate to make a base on which to set the asparagus stacks.

7. Cut each asparagus spear in three pieces — if fat, slice in half lengthwise as well.

8. Arrange a layer of white asparagus on top of the goat’s cheese, then green (laid at right angles to them), then white (at right angles) and finally green (at right angles again).

9. Cut the prosciutto or smoked salmon in thin strips, then arrange over the asparagus stacks and drizzle herby vinaigrette around. Garnish with parsley.

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Stir-fried Asparagus and Mushrooms With Toasted Sesame Seeds. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds green asparagus

8 ounces mushrooms

3 teaspoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

A walnut-sized piece of ginger, peeled, grated

Directions

1. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and cut the spears on a slant in 2-inch (5-centimeter) pieces. Trim the mushrooms and slice or quarter them.

2. Put the sesame seeds in a small frying pan and heat till nicely toasted and fragrant — don’t let them burn! Tip them onto a plate to cool.

3. Mix together the soy sauce and sugar and reserve.

4. When you’re ready to start the stir-fry (it takes barely 10 minutes), warm some soup plates in a lightly warmed oven.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil in a wok or paella pan and fry the garlic and ginger very briefly till golden — keep tossing and turning it so it doesn’t burn.

6. Add the trimmed asparagus and mushrooms and fry briskly, lifting and turning with two wooden spoons for about 10 minutes or until asparagus is just tender but with a bit of bite — keep the vegetables on the move and keep tasting until done to your liking. Stir in the reserved soy sauce and sugar and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.

7. Serve the vegetables over rice and scatter toasted sesame seeds on top.

Main photo: Freshly cut asparagus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Sue Style



Zester Daily contributor Sue Style lives in Alsace, France, close to the German and Swiss borders. She's the author of nine books on subjects ranging from Mexican food to the food and wines of Alsace and Switzerland. Her most recent, published in October 2011, is "Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture." Her website is suestyle.com.

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