Obsessed with asparagus

QUICKREAD

STIR-FRIED ASPARAGUS WITH SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

1 lb asparagus, washed/trimmed, sliced on the bias 1-2 inches long

6 oz shitake mushrooms, trim off stems and slice into half inch-thick slices

1 Tbs peanut or vegetable oil

2 tsp garlic chopped

1 Tbs oyster sauce — just use enough to coat vegetables

1 tsp sesame oil

Crushed red chilies, optional

 

Heat peanut oil in wok or sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté 30 seconds. Add asparagus and mushrooms and stir fry for 3 minutes. Add small amount of water to steam vegetables to help cook. (Omit this step with blanched asparagus). Add oyster sauce in small amounts just adding enough to coat vegetables. Drizzle in a sesame oil and red chili pepper flakes (if using either) and continue to cook until asparagus is tender, about 1 minute. 

Serves 4-6



Ah, asparagus, how I love you so. 

It is almost embarrassing how much asparagus I have been purchasing lately. I am at the point now when I bag it and toss it in the shopping cart I do so surreptitiously, so as to not get caught. I feel like eyes are upon me, as I may have exceeded my asparagus consumption for this spring and other shoppers may declare I am greedy or, worse, suspect I have a problem — an obsession. Maybe I do. I cannot get enough.

Regrettably, the younger people in our house don’t feel the same love as I do. Recently, I have served asparagus simply steamed, oven-roasted, blanched, sautéed, camouflaged in dishes (poor attempts, mind you), and generously wrapped it in salty, irresistible prosciutto, yet to no avail. I am insisting for now, however, that asparagus will still be on my weekly menu for the remainder of this spring for my satisfaction.   

Ironically, I too detested asparagus with passion growing up. Asparagus was runner-up to any type of squash. Don’t even get me started there. Let’s just say many tantrums were initiated by the presence of zucchini, squash and asparagus on my dinner plate. I recall countless lonely nights sitting at the kitchen table gagging down green vegetables that I was sure were to be the end of me. I survived, and now I am in conciliatory mode — so much so that I admittedly get carried away washing away my guilt one bite at a time. 

That being said, asparagus has been on the menu for the past two to three weeks and I am not done yet. I am not sure when my affection for asparagus developed, but I guess that is not what is important. What matters is how amazing it is. Yes, it is just a vegetable. However, there is nothing else like it. Asparagus is uniquely beautiful, healthy and versatile. Not to mention its side effects can be quite the conversation starter. 

If you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who has a secret asparagus patch, you are lucky. Savor every morsel. But if you are like the majority and purchase it at the store, don’t despair. Every variety I have purchased in the past few weeks has not let me down.

The argument continues, however, on the thin versus thick stalks. I used to be concerned about the woodiness of the thick stalks, consistently selecting the thinner ones. But after having some meaty, tender, thick varieties recently, I am happy with either. 

Minimal prep and ease of cooking are just two of the benefits of choosing asparagus as an accompaniment to your meal. Simply wash and snap the ends off the ends where warranted. Bend each end and let it snap in the most, crisp tender part. Don’t be tempted to cut them all in the same place as you will either waste part of the stalk by cutting them too short or end up with a last bit of woodiness that can be difficult to chew. It’s worth the extra few seconds to trim them individually. 

In a pinch for time, my favorite way to prepare asparagus is simple. Wash, prep and toss with a light coating of good olive oil — just enough that it shines — and then lightly dust with coarse kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast the asparagus at 400 degrees for approximately 10-12 minutes on a rimmed sheet pan. Cooking times can vary greatly depending the thickness of the asparagus and desired doneness. I prefer to retain a little snap. If you want to cook it further, no harm. Roasting deepens the flavor and gives a slight char. Eat it as is or drizzle with a little lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. 

If you prefer the brilliant green appearance, as appearance does matter with food, go with blanching. To blanch the asparagus, bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Carefully drop in washed/trimmed asparagus and let simmer for about 3 minutes. Test for doneness, then strain. Place in an ice water bath to stop it from cooking and stand back and admire the brilliant green color. Add the tender asparagus to pastas, salads, omelets, frittata, crepes, pilafs or risotto, drizzle with a little salad dressing or wrap the stalks in some cured meats for a savory treat.

Quick to cook, asparagus also makes an excellent choice for sautéing or stir fry. A little butter, oil or bacon grease in a hot pan marries nicely with fresh asparagus. Get your pan nice and hot and add your fat of choice and sauté, stirring often until done, about 5-7 minutes. My favorite is quick stir-fried mushrooms and asparagus with a little heat from red pepper flakes and sweetness from oyster sauce. 

If you are obsessed this spring with asparagus like me, keep it interesting and experiment with other foods that pair well with asparagus; cheese, eggs, garlic, lemon juice, vinaigrettes, balsamic vinegar, mustards, mushrooms, strawberries, salty meats, ginger, sesame, fresh herbs and creamy sauces.

■ Soy sauce can be substituted for oyster sauce if needed.

■ You can use any favorite mushroom variety.

■ Serve stir fry atop hot cooked rice.

■ Sprinkle with sesame seeds for a little crunch.

Suzanne Hanzl is a personal chef, culinary instructor and owner of Tourné Cooking School, tournecooking.com. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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