In Britain, where I live, asparagus is a god among vegetables. It is greeted with real reverence in spring, as if nothing worth eating has been available for months. With a deep sigh of relief at the end of a long winter of roots, cabbages and more roots, we finally spot those fresh green shoots.
After more than 20 years living in Britain, I am afraid I have finally caught the bug.
The short season – not much longer than eight weeks – and the notion that this delicacy is something “we” do really well, give asparagus special status here. Yes, tomatoes grow in Britain, but they’ll never be as good as Italian ones, and we all know it. British Brassicas and root vegetables are also excellent, but they are staples for most of the year, breeding a sense of familiarity that often sounds a bit like contempt.
So now I, too, get giddy when the first bundles of local asparagus appear at my local greengrocer in April. I, too, grab them with both hands and throw them into a pot as fast as I can. I, too, start lecturing anyone who will listen about the splendor of our local hero.
Perhaps because of this esteem, I tread lightly when cooking asparagus. It also makes sense, since asparagus is so delicate that it can easily be overwhelmed by neighboring ingredients in a dish. I don’t understand the point of mixing asparagus in a salad with lots of other vegetables, where its marvelous yet subtle flavor is lost in a cacophony.
To celebrate its distinctiveness, I tend to pair asparagus with the classics: eggs, butter, olive oil, cheese, cream, onions, garlic, potatoes. Texture comes from fried bread crumbs or nuts, the most natural for me being mild almonds, which leave the right amount of space for the taste of asparagus. For flavor, acidity is a must. Sometimes tomatoes work, but citrus and vinegar are always my first choice. Recently, I have been using lots of capers.
Lemony mashed potatoes with asparagus, almonds and mint
Yield: 6 side-dish servings
Total time: About 35 minutes
FOR THE POTATOES:
1 lemon, preferably organic, scrubbed
About 15 mint sprigs plus 1/4 cup lightly packed shredded mint leaves
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 pounds large potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or Désirée), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
Heaping 1/3 cup sour cream
Salt and black pepper
FOR THE ASPARAGUS:
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
6 anchovy fillets, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
Using a peeler, remove the yellow zest from the lemon in large strips. Cut the peeled lemon into six wedges and reserve for serving.
Fill a medium saucepan with salted water, add the lemon zest, mint sprigs and garlic, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add potatoes and boil for 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
Drain well. Return potatoes, lemon zest and garlic to the pan, discarding the mint sprigs. Add butter, milk, sour cream and 3 / 4teaspoon salt and mash until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, cook the asparagus: In a large skillet, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat until foaming. Add asparagus and cook, turning frequently, until cooked through but retaining a slight bite, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn off the heat and use tongs to transfer asparagus to a plate. Add the anchovy, garlic and a pinch of salt to the pan, return to medium heat, and stir continuously until the garlic is starting to turn gold, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in almonds and dried mint, and immediately spoon the mixture into a bowl to stop the cooking.
Divide potatoes on serving plates. Top with the asparagus and spoon the buttered almond mixture over the top. Serve at once with a sprinkle of fresh mint and the lemon wedges alongside.
Roasted asparagus with buttered almonds, capers and dill
Yield: 6 side-dish servings
Total time: About 20 minutes
1 1/3 pounds asparagus, woody ends trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Scant 1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons baby capers, patted dry on paper towels
1/4 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl or on a work surface, use your hands or tongs to toss the asparagus with 1 tablespoon oil, a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Arrange asparagus in the paper-lined pan, spaced well apart, and roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until asparagus is soft and starting to brown in places, 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove from oven and set aside in the pan.
In a small or medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until foamy. Add almonds and fry, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes (reduce heat as needed to prevent scorching). Pour almonds and butter evenly over asparagus.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat over high heat. Once hot, add the capers and fry, stirring continuously, until they have opened up and become crisp, 1 to 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove capers from the oil and sprinkle over the asparagus. Add dill. Using tongs or two spoons, mix gently to combine, transfer to a large plate and serve warm.
Sesame fried rice with spring vegetables and egg
4 servings, Healthy
Made with whole-grain rice and brimming with colorful spring vegetables, this healthful meal in a bowl feels like an indulgence.
From cookbook author and nutritionist Ellie Krieger.
3 tablespoons peanut oil or canola oil
8 ounces asparagus (1/2 bunch), woody ends trimmed, cut on the bias into 1-inch pieces
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen (not defrosted)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, the dark-green part also thinly sliced and reserved for garnish
1 tablespoon peeled, freshly grated ginger root
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
3 1/2 cups very cold cooked brown rice
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted (white) sesame seeds
4 large eggs
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large nonstick skillet or well-seasoned wok over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften.
Add the carrots and peas; cook for 1 minute, then add the scallion, ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring, then add the rice; cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. Reduce the heat to low to keep warm as you cook the eggs.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the skillet; fry just until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
To serve, spoon the fried rice and vegetables into individual bowls. Place an egg on top of each portion. Garnish with scallion greens and season lightly with salt, if desired.
Nutrition | Per serving: 480 calories, 16 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 185 mg cholesterol, 540 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar