Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A paean to asparagus

What a thing of beauty it is after it's been peeled, steamed, and plunged into ice water to preserve its gorgeous green. After a childhood of knowing (and hating) only canned asparagus, how I love it fresh, and it is one veggie that I never have left over after serving it to company.

To peel or not to peel

A resounding Yes! to peeling. Though one of the food "experts" at Cook's Illustrated once wrote that it's unnecessary to peel asparagus, I beg to differ. I really think it is not only much prettier, but tastes better when peeled. It has to be thin as a pencil before I'll serve it unpeeled. And, with my much-loved German asparagus peeler (a great find at Williams Sonoma after decades of using a potato peeler, this thing holds onto the spear and easily sheds the peelings), I can peel two pounds in the time it takes an inch of water to boil.

I don't own a fancy asparagus steamer:

My method is to place up to two pounds of spears in a steamer basket in a large pot with about an inch of water, bring to a boil and cook from 3 to 5 minutes, using the fork test for doneness. Then I remove the spears and plunge them into a bowl of water with ice until it's cold and transfer it to paper towels to dry off. When I'm serving the spears as a side vegetable with butter and lemon juice, I omit the ice-water step. For risotto, I use ice water, but omit the paper towel drying.

Buying note

Both Sam's and Costco have good prices on asparagus, but Costco seals theirs up in a plastic bag and somehow it doesn't taste right to me. At Sam's, it's sold unwrapped and you can get a big plastic bag in the meat department to put it in without sealing it up.


When I'm asked to take a vegetable (or even a salad) to a potluck luncheon or dinner, asparagus vinaigrette is often my choice, because it's much easier than schlepping a hot dish across the county. The asparagus and the vinagrette sauce can be made the day before and chilled. An oblong plastic container with a drainer insert is perfect to keep the veggie from getting waterlogged. As to the garnishes, chop the peppers, toast the pine nuts, and store both in zipper bags to be applied upon arrival. Likewise, store the sauce in a jar for last-minute application. Warning: Even when I take 4 pounds to a potluck, it disappears before the last people in line get to it. Here's the recipe:

Asparagus with Red Pepper Vinaigrette


2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
3 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 pounds thin asparagus
Salt, for cooking
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
Prepare vinaigrette: Combine garlic, shallot, and red pepper in food processor. Cover; whirl until finely chopped. Add vinegars, lemon juice, cream, salt, pepper, and basil. With machine running, slowly add olive oil in thin, steady stream through feed tube. Whirl until combined. Vinaigrette can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.Steam asparagus 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender, and drain. Plunge in ice water to keep bright green color.Drain asparagus thoroughly and place on a serving platter. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours.All preparation up to this point can be done a day ahead.To serve, pour vinaigrette over asparagus. Garnish with pine nuts and red pepper.

Oh, yeah, there's the matter of the worldwide pine nut shortage. Since I've always kept a large bag of Costco's pine nuts in the freezer, I'm not so lavish with them since they went up to $29 for 1-1/2 pounds. Last time, I stingily meted out only the requisite 2 tablespoons before toasting over the gas stove burner with another cute little Sonoma gadget.

1 comment:

kdbliv said...

Love asparagus!!! So....We planted some in our garden this year. It will be at least 2 years before we get to harvest but hopefully we will see some produce and it will be worth the wait.

Will be on the lookout for an asparagus peeler even though our favorite way to make it is with olive oil, fresh thyme and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, turning once. Can't wait to try some white asparagus :)