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Spring has finally sprung, and I just can’t wait to take advantage of all the tender, thin asparagus spears cropping up in the markets. Who could resist? But if you’re not using them right away, be sure to store them correctly. Don’t just throw them in a plastic bag and leave in the veggie bin to molder. Place the asparagus stems in a tall glass and fill it with 2” of water. Loosely drape a small plastic bag over the tips of the spears and place in your refrigerator. They will stay fresh for nearly a week.
This perennial plant, a harbinger of spring, goes back to ancient times and is a favorite in many cuisines, including Chinese, Italian, French, German and British. China is actually the world’s largest producer of asparagus, while much closer to home, Michigan’s Oceana County hosts the National Asparagus Festival each June. Asparagus has high levels of calcium, thiamin and niacin, and the thicker the stalk, the more fiber it contains. Considering growing your own? Better think ahead. Though they are perennials, it takes a few years from seed to harvest with initial growth, but once you can harvest them, you can look forward to their repeat visit.
Here are some recipes that take advantage of the best that these grassy spears have to offer.
Purée them in a soup
This is one of my favorite ways to use fresh spring asparagus. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add two cups of chopped onion and four or five peeled and smashed garlic cloves; cook until translucent but don’t let them brown. Take two bunches of asparagus (about two pounds), snap off the woody part of the stem and cut into small pieces. Add to the onion and garlic in the pot along with 1½ quarts of chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on thickness of spears) and check for tenderness. At this point, throw in a handful of chopped fresh dill to wilt. Using an immersion blender (my favorite! An indispensable kitchen tool), purée the soup. Throw in a good handful of grated Pecorino cheese and the juice of ½ a lemon. If you’re feeling the need to gild the lily, you can add in a spot of heavy cream or half-and-half and simmer to thicken slightly. Guess what? Leftovers make a great cold soup, too.
Simple and effective! Roasting the spears concentrates the flavor and makes a wonderful and easy side dish. Preheat your oven to 425F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper. Snap off woody ends (you can save these for asparagus/veggie stock if you are especially industrious) of a pound of asparagus and put on sheet pan in a single layer. Toss with a half tablespoon of olive oil to lightly coat the spears. Season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast until spears are bright green and end of stem is pierceable with a fork. Cooking time will vary with thickness of stems. Pencil-thin asparagus can cook in five minutes; thick spears can take 15. Dress up asparagus with a little soy sauce and sesame seeds, or perhaps some lemon zest and herb butter. Sometimes I drizzle them with a little aged balsamic vinegar and a shower of grated Parmesan cheese.
Stir-fry with shrimp
Make a quick simmer sauce with a few tablespoons of soy sauce, some chopped fresh ginger, a little lime zest and juice of half a lime, a tablespoon of Korean gochujang and a teaspoon of cornstarch. Combine in a small bowl and set aside. In a nonstick skillet, quickly stir-fry a few cloves of chopped garlic and two chopped scallions in a tablespoon of olive oil, then add in a pound of chopped asparagus (thicker spears work better here) and sauté over medium-high heat. Throw in a half-pound of trimmed fresh snow peas and a pound of shelled raw jumbo shrimp. Sauté until shrimp turns pink, then add in the reserved sauce. Toss all together and cook for an additional minute or two. Serve immediately over cooked brown rice (or cauliflower rice if you’re a carb watcher).
Shave ‘em and toss in a spring salad
I love this option. This works best with medium stalks of asparagus. You will need one bunch of asparagus. Place spears on a flat surface. Holding onto the woody stem end and working from stem to tip, carefully shave strips off the asparagus spears using a good peeler, turning the spear as you go. Put asparagus shavings in a large salad bowl with a bunch of arugula, some chopped avocado and a handful of toasted sliced almonds. I’d also throw in some crumbled feta cheese. Dress with lemon vinaigrette and toss. Need an entrée? Lay a piece of grilled salmon on top.
Try one of these tried-and-true recipes
The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some I return to over and over that showcase spring asparagus beautifully.
Dan Pashman’s Cascatelli Primavera https://food52.com/recipes/85751-cascatelli-primavera-recipe
Smitten Kitchen’s Spring Asparagus Galette https://smittenkitchen.com/2021/04/spring-asparagus-galette/
NYT’s Risotto with Asparagus and Pesto https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016793-risotto-with-asparagus-and-pesto
Williams-Sonoma’s Spring Lamb Stew with Asparagus and Peas https://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/spring-lamb-stew-with-asparagus-and-peas.html