Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thin or Thick Stemmed?  

Which is best?
What do you prefer?

I hear this frequently while I'm shopping, especially when my cart is piled high with the first asparagus of the season.  So I thought I'd check around and put to rest that age old question.  Thinner stems are better (more tender)  than thicker stems.  

So what is the answer???

Thinner is ........just thinner!

The Romans were the first to cultivate asparagus going back some 2000 years.  Its appearance has changed since then from the tall, skinny, narrow stems much like the original wild plants to a fatter, thicker stem preferred since the 1700's.  Asparagus plants are naturally either male or female.  Female plants bear red seeds diverting energy from the stalks into reproduction. The seeds falling to the ground create competition between the mature plants and the young seedlings...SO...the stalks of female asparagus plants are thinner.  

White MALE asparagus
Male plants, on the other hand,  removed from the necessity of producing seeds, bear the best and most flavorful thicker stalks.  They also, apparently watch more TV and drink more beer as they sit around growing larger and thicker.  (What? WHO said THAT? Don't mind my evil twin this being an equal opportunity blog and all.)

Regardless of whether they are thick or thin, asparagus comes in three colors...

1. The luscious green of spring.  

2. The blanched white color prized in Europe for its tenderness and costing a king's ransom. The plants are covered with baskets or soil to reduce exposure to the sun ensuring the white stalks.  
Remember, no chlorophyll = no green! 

                                       3. And a lovely purple color that ends up turning green when cooked.


Here are some hints for picking out the freshest possible bunch of asparagus:
Look for tight, dry tips either fresh green or purplish in hue. 

You do not want tips that have opened and started to flower...
Walk away from that asparagus.

Make sure the stems are firm and full, not shriveled and dry looking.

Now you know how to pick out asparagus and you have a bundle in your cart. Now What?

Snap off the ends of the asparagus. 
They will naturally break at the tenderest point.  
SAVE THE ENDS for soup.  
A Ziploc bag is in my freezer waiting to be filled with more end pieces.  
Waste not, Want not.
My grandmother would be so proud!

Place the asparagus in a large amount of boiling water (think pasta), turn the burner to simmer and cook just until al dente at the most 2 minutes depending on the size of your spears.  Do Not Overcook as asparagus becomes slimy at that point.  Drain and  immediately place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  From here you can keep the asparagus (I roll in paper towel and stick in a Ziploc bag to store) ready to use for future in a few days.

What constitutes future use?  
Asparagus can be grilled, oven roasted, or served in any of the following ways:
Make an asparagus and pea risotto.

Steam baby peas and cut up asparagus in lettuce channeling the French method of cooking both.
Cream of asparagus soup
Asparagus omelets, frittatas and quiches
Toasted and buttered bread topped with asparagus and a poached egg..DIVINE for a no brainer dinner!
Steamed and topped with a salsa of cucumbers and herbs
Steamed and topped with hollandaise
Roasted asparagus and baby new potatoes combined with goat cheese and mint
Paired with roasted salmon and topped with hollandaise.
Stir fried with ginger, garlic and a hint of toasted sesame oil.
Paired with luscious sea scallops, puff pastry and orange scented hollandaise.

Are you getting the idea that I love hollandaise sauce?

One of my easiest hors d'oeuvres consists of two ingredients:
Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.
That's IT.  
You can seriously do this!
This amazing little nosh can be served cold or thrown into a hot oven drizzled with EVOO until crispy.

In this pic, I went hog wild and sprinkle some Asiago cheese over the top.  
You can also drizzle with a good extra virgin olive oil and/or some balsamic vinegar.

It's YOUR turn to share your favorite asparagus recipe.