As one of the most delectable harbingers of spring, asparagus spears will soon be poking up along fence lines and in gardens, to grace supper tables once again.
And it's about time, right? Before we know it, farmers' markets will be full of all those tenderly succulent delicacies we've been craving for far too long, and asparagus - that favorite little spear - will be among those leading the pack.
Here are a few simple asparagus recipes to help you take advantage of the bounty. But don't be deceived by their simplicity; less is truly more whenever asparagus is the star.
RAW, SHAVED asparagus makes the perfect base for this incredible asparagus salad recipe.
Shaved asparagus and radish salad with warm bacon
When most people think about their favorite asparagus dishes, a raw preparation doesn't generally come to mind.
Although a classically trained chef, I could even count myself among those numbers - that is, until I started farming a few years back and had the opportunity to taste asparagus as it was meant to be eaten - right out of the ground.
Once the woody part of the stem is removed, the tips are delicately sweet with just a hint of nuttiness - the perfect base for a light spring salad.
Yields 4 generous servings.
2 bunches asparagus
8 to 10 small red radishes
5 slices bacon
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Remove woody ends from asparagus by holding each stalk and then bending in half until it breaks naturally.
This is the best way to make sure you're only using the tender part of the stalk. Then, using a vegetable peeler, shave each stalk, starting with the tip and proceeding toward the broken end.
Left intact, the tips add to the texture and overall attractiveness of the dish. Place asparagus in large bowl. Thinly slice radishes. Place in bowl with asparagus and set aside.
In large skillet over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp.
Remove bacon to paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool. Do not discard bacon drippings.
Pour 3 tablespoons bacon fat into small saucepan that has been placed over low heat.
Add vinegar, sugar, Dijon mustard and a pinch each of Kosher salt and black pepper, then whisk to emulsify dressing.
Pour dressing over asparagus and radishes.
Crumble bacon on top and toss to combine.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as desired.
This salad is best served immediately, as the bacon fat will solidify if allowed to cool too much.
Make a meal out of it by serving with crusty bread and/or a fried egg on top.
Everyone knows the traditional basil pesto, that beloved sauce of the summer garden. But what if you get a hankerin' for garden-fresh pesto in early spring?
Well, rather than pine away for an ingredient that's still months away, why not get creative and replace it with what you do have?
Asparagus, it turns out, is a wonderful substitution for basil in this classic sauce.
Yields 4 to 6 servings.
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed and tender tips cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
3 to 4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is ideal)
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt water liberally.
Remember, the rule of thumb when cooking pasta or blanching vegetables is to make your water as salty as the sea.
Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
Remove asparagus to prepared ice bath - ice water in large bowl - to stop the cooking process.
Meanwhile, roast garlic cloves, removed from bulb but still in paper, by placing in dry pan over medium heat.
Once bulbs become soft to touch and slightly brown, about 10 minutes, remove and peel.
Place asparagus, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and pinch of black pepper into bowl of food processor. Turn on motor and begin chopping/mixing process.
With motor running, slowly pour in enough olive oil so sauce comes together; start with 1/4 cup.
Stop motor, scraping down sides of bowl if necessary.
Add lemon juice, and then adjust seasoning by adding additional salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed; pulse a few more times to combine.
Serve with pasta and a few lightly steamed asparagus spears, or with chicken, fish or even steak.
Roasted asparagus with Parmesan
Last, but definitely not least, is an oldie but goodie.
This classic roasted asparagus side dish was a favorite in my family, and I'm sure it will become one in yours. Not only is it incredibly easy to prepare, its simplicity is what makes it so special.
The tender tips become golden and crispy in a matter of minutes, and the salty bite of the Parmesan adds just the right amount of richness.
Yields 2 generous servings.
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is ideal)
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In large bowl, toss asparagus in olive oil to coat. Place on baking sheet and roast in oven until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and top with generous portion of Parmesan; season with salt and pepper as desired.
Since Parmesan is a rather salty cheese, go light on additional salt. You can always add more at the end.
Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted and starts to brown.
Excerpted from GRIT, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.Grit.com or call (866) 624-9388 to subscribe. Copyright 2014 by Ogden Publications Inc.