A Taste of Spring: Asparagus

cooking with springtime asparagus 2Spring is my favorite season. In my hometown of Charlotte, NC it starts with the first crocus, then the cherry trees add a pop of color and after a long winter’s break, the beautiful Bradford Pear trees which line many a street in town, burst forth with blossoms. For about a week, the city is awash in white blossoms and that’s when you know it – you’re on the cusp of asparagus season.

Before you know it we’ll be slicing into tomatoes and spitting watermelon seeds, but lets not rush things. Time to enjoy the flavors of springtime and that first taste is of asparagus.

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Doug Carrigan and team with local asparagus at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ market

I planted my own little asparagus bed when we moved into our home – about 10 years ago. We now have a healthy little crop for the two of us to enjoy, albeit, one or two stalks at a time. Alas, I am a hobby gardener, and while its fun to watch the tiny green heads peep up out of the ground and grow up to reach the sky; when its really time to cook, I turn to farmers who grow professionally like Doug Carrigan of Carrigan Farms.

IMG_9171Carrigan Farms is a 5th generation farm in Mooresville, NC and is a beautiful destination for weddings, farm to table dinners; and just after asparagus season, pick-your-own-strawberries and more, but lets not rush things.  For now, Doug is my go-to asparagus guy. Every Saturday between somewhere around the end of March to about the middle of April Doug brings bunches of the bright green stalks to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. This time of year, you’ll find other local farmers with their bumper asparagus crops bound in bundles ready for you to take home and enjoy at  the regional Charlotte market and other local farmers’ markets as well. The season is short, so eat it up while you can.

Today the focus is on several quick and easy asparagus salad recipes I first shared with you on a late March 2016 television segment on Charlotte Today. We filmed about the same time Doug and his family where picking the first crop to bring to market. As you will see on the tape, I wasn’t expecting to find fresh locally grown asparagus for a week or so, but was delighted to find Doug and his son selling at the market the Saturday just after the show. Timing is everything.

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note the difference between the end of the asparagus stalk several days old (left) and the freshly snapped one

A stalk of asparagus is just like a fresh picked flower: to keep it tender, it must be kept in water. If you are buying fresh picked asparagus from a local source and cooking it immediately, then there is no need to trim the stems – you can eat the whole thing.  If you are purchasing from a grocery store or working with market asparagus you purchased several days ago, then you’ll want to pop off the dried part of the stalk. Just bend the end – the asparagus will snap naturally where it goes from tough to tender. The tougher ends can be used to make vegetable stock, the tender tips may be eaten raw, steamed, poached, grilled or roasted.

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I think the best way to cook fresh asparagus is the roast them – or just enjoy them raw!

For the easiest method of cooking I turn to the grill or the oven. place the stalks in a single layer, roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 8 minutes. That’s it. Roughly the same timing on the grill, although if you have thin stalks, keep an eye out that the flames aren’t too high or hot.

Once the asparagus are roasted or grilled, you can turn them into a host of different salads, as I did on the March Charlotte Today cooking segment and as I have outlined here.

Here are some easy peasy ideas on how to turn fresh raw or just roasted asparagus into a meal.

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Cut the stalks into bite sized pieces and toss with fresh blue berries, raspberries or strawberries. Add orange zest and a popover ( see recipe below) and a bit of fresh mint. Drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinegar  or local honey and serve atop a bed of locally grown leaf lettuce.

 

IMG_8897While the asparagus is roasting, fry a local egg to your own personal degree of desired doneness (I’m a sunny side up gal, myself) Serve the egg along side the bundle of warm asparagus, drizzle dark roasted sesame oil over all and then top with a sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds. The egg may be served over toast as well or for a great open faced sandwich variation on this same theme. Top the toast with some grated  sharp cheddar cheese and run under the broiled just until the cheese melts. Top with the roasted asparagus and hot fried egg. Add some sauteed mushrooms (check out the wonderful selection of locally grown ‘shrooms from Urban Gourmet Mushroom Farm at the Atherton Farmers’ Market) if you would like, drizzle with the sesame oil and you are good to go.

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As spring morphs into summer we will start to see greenhouse tomatoes making appearances at local markets, or you can make this recipe with oil packed sun dried tomatoes with very successful results as well. Make up a late spring or early summer bruschetta topping of chopped tomatoes, peppers, black olives and basil. Toss the mix in a bit of your favorite olive oil .Arrange the bruschetta mix over the hot or cold roasted asparagus, then dust with a sprinkling of finely grated Parmesan cheese  and there you have it!

 

IMG_8865You may notice that each of the asparagus plates above includes a popover. Popover are an easy, fast and fu alternative to any other bread and their light and fluffy nature makes for a great foil to the crisp green crunch of the freshly roasted asparagus. You can use a popover pan or a metal of silicone muffin or brioche pan does the trick just as well. The beauty of the silicone pan is that the popovers pop out without a fuss. I am generally not a big fan of silicone, bowls and “pans” but in this case, I make an exception…

Heidi’s Parmesan Popovers

1 1/2 cups organic all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp. your favorite fat ( you may use olive oil, melted butter, melted leaf lard, bacon fat, etc)

1 local or pasture raised organic egg

1 1/2 cups organic whole milk

Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese ( I Love local product and am a big supporter of all kinds of local cheese, but when it comes to Parmesan cheese, just pretend you live in Italy and go with the real thing)

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Preheat the oven 475 degrees – it is important here to start with a hot oven.    Prepared the muffin tins or popover pan by greasing them with butter ( unless you are using a silicone pan). Place the pan in preheated 475 oven for 2 minutes, to heat the pan ( unless you are using silicone) while you whisk together the flour, salt eggs, milk and melted butter until smooth. Remove the muffin tins from the oven and carefully fill each cup less than halfway full with batter. Sprinkle the top of each cup of batter lightly with grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy hot or cold.

 

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Now that you know all the tricks, enjoy the video of my March Charlotte Today  Cooking with Local Asparagus segment once again. Show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson always make my time on set tons of fun!  Watch Now!

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