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Asparagus ideal for appetizers, soup, salads

Asparagus is a versatile spring vegetable that can be blanched, sauteed, roasted, grilled, baked in parchment packets or eaten raw.

It has significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D and traces of vitamins A and B12 and is a good source of fibre.

The preparation is the same regardless of the cooking method. To find the right spot for trimming, hold the spear at both ends and bend it until it breaks. Discard the bottom woody end.

Many cooks also like to peel asparagus to make it more tender.

Freeze prepared spears by blanching, which deactivates the ripening enzymes and prevents darkening and spoilage in the freezer.

To blanch, boil for two minutes and immediately chill in ice water, then drain on a clean tea towel. Lay spears on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze. Package in freezer bags for up to a year.

Asparagus Appetizers

Roll puff pastry to 1/4-inch (6 mm) thickness and cut in strips. Wrap around uncooked asparagus spears, then brush the exposed asparagus tip with olive oil. Bake in 375 F (190 C) oven until pastry is browned.
If using phyllo pastry, brush with melted butter and fold until you have the right size and roll it around the asparagus stalk. Brush exposed end of asparagus and outside of phyllo wrapping with melted butter. Garnish with sesame seeds. Bake in 375 F (190 C) oven until pastry is golden.
Another idea is to wrap prosciutto around uncooked asparagus spears. Brush exposed tip with olive oil. Bake in 375 F (190 C) oven until the prosciutto is slightly crisped.

You can also steam and cool spears then wrap with smoked salmon. Serve with capers, lemon wedges and buttermilk thinned sour cream.

Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus

  • 2 lb. asparagus, 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick, trimmed 1 kg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated 375 mL
  • 3/4 c. panko bread crumbs 200 mL
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled 15 mL
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tsp. honey 5 mL

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Line a baking sheet with kitchen foil and lightly grease.
Combine one cup (250 mL) of parmesan, bread crumbs, butter, black pepper and cayenne in a shallow dish.

Beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium until foamy, about one minute. Increase speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form, two to three minutes. Toss asparagus in the egg whites to evenly coat.
Then, one spear at a time, dredge asparagus in bread crumbs and place them on a baking sheet. Bake until just beginning to brown, six to eight minutes. Sprinkle with remaining half cup (125 mL) of parmesan and continue to bake until cheese is melted and bread crumbs are golden brown, six to eight minutes. Arrange on a platter and serve. Serves four to six as a side dish. Source: adapted from Cook’s Country.

Ribbons of Asparagus

Use a vegetable peeler to make ribbons from asparagus spears. Start cutting from the stem end after trimming the woody part.
Use in a salad by lightly tossing them in your favourite vinaigrette and arrange on individual plates. Garnish with shaved parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.
Ribbons are wonderful as a pizza topping. Lightly toss in salad oil before arranging on the pizza. Use with all your favourite toppings.
They can also be lightly sauteed and served as a side dish. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Roasted Asparagus Soup

  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus 500 g
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 c. onion, diced 125 mL
  • olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. flour 30 mL
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • parmesan or asiago cheese
  • 2 c. chicken or fish stock 500 mL
  • pinch cayenne

Roughly chop asparagus, then toss with celery and onion in olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in 375 F (190 C) oven for five minutes. Set aside asparagus tips for garnishing.
To make veloute sauce melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and mix well. Cook until bubbly but not browned and slowly whisk in stock. Bring to a boil while whisking. Remove from heat and set aside. Add roasted vegetables to blender. Add veloute sauce, then puree until smooth. Garnish with asparagus tips.

Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip

This restaurant-style hot artichoke dip makes perfect party food or a first course for a dinner. This can also be made with spinach. This dip is full of vegetables, reducing any guilt you may harbour for indulging in cheese. Serve with taco chips, baked pita chips or a vegetable platter.

  • 1 c. asparagus 250 mL
  • 1 c. leeks, white and light green parts only, finely chopped 250 mL
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. all purpose flour 30 mL
  • 1 1/4 c. whole milk 310 mL
  • 1 c. grated white cheddar cheese 250 mL
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 14 oz. can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped 415 mL
  • 1/4 c. peas, fresh or thawed frozen 60 mL
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives or green onions 60 mL
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley 30 mL
  • 2 tbsp. chopped mint 30 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 2 mL
  • 4 oz. c rumbled fresh goat cheese, divided 115 g

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Prepare the asparagus and cook in boiling salted water until still crisp, about two minutes. Drain and set aside. Set aside the asparagus tips in a separate bowl.
Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat. Add leeks and cook until soft and tender, about six minutes. Stir in flour with a rubber spatula.
Cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly stir in milk, over low heat. Stir while heating to a simmer. Cook until thickened and remove from heat.
Stir in cheddar until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add two ounces (55 g) of goat cheese, herbs, lemon zest, asparagus, artichoke hearts and peas. Gently mix until evenly incorporated.
Pour into a four cup (1 L) buttered baking dish or six individual ramekins. Arrange asparagus tips and remainder of the goat cheese on top. At this point, it can be covered with kitchen wrap and refrigerated until baking, up to three hours.
Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Rest for five minutes before serving. Source: adapted from www.epicurious.com.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at allourfingersinthepie.blogspot.ca. Contact: team@producer.com.

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