Spring is for (Asparagus) Lovers

Expect a fragrant burst of steam when opening this package full of Springtime bliss.

For the asparagus lover, spring brings more than warmer temperatures and pollen. It brings asparagus. We adore those lovely green shoots with a passion that cannot be explained to asparagus haters.  When it’s available we enjoy it in abundance, never growing tired or bored. We love it steamed, simmered, roasted, grilled, sautéed, tossed with pasta or thinly sliced and raw in a salad.

 

Green asparagus is the most common and usually comes in three sizes, pencil thin, medium and thick. The size of the stalk has nothing to do with the tenderness or maturity. What you choose will depend on personal preference and what you’re cooking. Use thinner spears for stir-frying and the thicker ones for grilling or serving whole.

White asparagus, while not as available as green, is equally delicious. The shoots are covered with mulch to prevent chlorophyll development; hence the white color. White asparagus must be completely peeled from tip to tail and should be well cooked. Do not cook white and green asparagus together; they have different needs.

When choosing asparagus, look for spears with tips that are tightly closed and compact. When a bunch is squeezed, it should squeak. If the stalks appear woody, then walk away.

Store your treasures in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Wrap the ends in a damp paper towel and then place them in a plastic bag or place in a container with an inch of water and stand them upright, uncovered. Fresh asparagus will store, refrigerated for up to 3 days, but do not wash before storage.

One quirk of our ephemeral shoots; the skin of asparagus does not soften when cooked. It’s usually best to peel the lower stalks of medium or fat spears and always peel white asparagus.

One last note, if you are one of the lucky one with a sensitive nose. Take heart. It’s totally normal. The effect of asparagus on urine odor has been observed for centuries. And since the issue isn’t whether or not your pee is smelly, it’s whether or not you are able to smell it. So if you notice a funny odor after enjoying asparagus, congratulations! You have great taste, and a good nose.

Asparagus and Chicken Foil Packs

Yield: 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or 6-8 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 pound of fresh asparagus

2 lemons

3 Tablespoons of melted butter

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay four 12×12 inch squares of aluminum foil out on a flat surface.

If using chicken breasts, pound them with a meat mallet until they are of even thickness. Arrange one breast, or two thighs on each foil square.

Trim the tough ends of the asparagus and divide the spears between the foil packs. Thinly slice one lemon and arrange the lemon slices between the foil packs, tucking the slices in, around and between the chicken and asparagus.

Stir together the butter, garlic, dried Italian seasoning and the juice from the remaining lemon. Divide the sauce evenly over the foil packets and season with salt and pepper.

Fold the foil over the chicken and asparagus to seal the packet and arrange the foil packets on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve immediately.

Asparagus and Gnocchi

Yield: 4 servings

1 package of vacuum packed gnocchi

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 pound of asparagus, cut into 1” pieces

1 cup spring peas (thaw if frozen)

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup heavy cream

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshy ground pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil; add the gnocchi and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Set a large skillet over medium high heat; add the olive oil and heat until the oil shimmers. Add the shallots, a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the shallots are slightly soft.  Add the asparagus and cook, stirring and tossing the vegetables around, for 8-10 minutes or until the asparagus are crisp tender.  Add the peas and the cook gnocchi and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the peas are heated through.

Remove from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese, heavy cream and lemon juice.   Stir until just combined; taste and adjust seasoning.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Yield: 4 servings

2 pound of asparagus, washed

3 Tablespoons of butter

1 large shallot, chopped

5 to 6 cups of chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, or to taste

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Cut the tips from 12 asparagus spears. Reserve for garnish.

Cut the stalks and all the remaining asparagus into ½ inch pieces.

In a large heavy saucepan, set over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the asparagus pieces and salt and pepper to taste, then cook, stirring for 5 minutes.  Add 5 cups of the chicken broth and simmer, covered, until the asparagus is very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, plunge the reserved asparagus tips into boiling salted water and cook for 2-3 minutes or until crisp tender and bright green. Drain.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth, or use an immersion blender to blend the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the heavy cream and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning adding more lemon juice if desired.   Bring the soup almost to the boil and whisk in the remaining Tablespoon of butter.

Garnish with the asparagus tips and Parmesan cheese. If making in advance, add the last tablespoon of butter and the lemon juice after reheating.