Jewish World Review
April 10, 2008
/5 Nissan 5768
The spring elegance of asparagus
By Steve Petusevsky
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT)
Spring produce starts to trickle into the grocery store like little bulbs sprouting daffodils after lying dormant all winter. Among the produce filling bins this month is asparagus. And they'll continue to be prevalent until June, so you have plenty of time to prepare this healthful and kitchen-friendly vegetable.
Many consider asparagus to be an elegant vegetable, and it is often referred to as the queen of the produce world.
My recollections of asparagus start as a little kid. They grew wild all over our property in Ulster County, N.Y., and throughout the Catskills. Much thinner than most cultivated varieties, the wild ones look very much like the pencil-thin ones I now adore.
The stalks still are harvested by hand, and it takes nearly three years from seed to harvest. In today's market, asparagus is sold in grades - colossal, jumbo, large, standard and small - although the varieties are interchangeable.
Some love the fat asparagus spears; others, like myself, prefer the pencil asparagus. Maybe it's because when I was a young culinary school graduate, my French chef instructor made me peel eight cases of the large stalks for a special function. A few years later while working in Germany, I was the only American in a kitchen of 70 cooks, and I was handed five cases of German white asparagus to peel.
I'll stick with the thin green spears that don't require peeling.
Although we favor green asparagus in the states, the milder-tasting white ones are popular in Europe. These asparagus are buried, depriving them of sunlight so they don't produce green chlorophyll. This process is called etiolation. You can use white asparagus in any recipe calling for green.
When buying asparagus look for straight, bright green stalks that are not wet at the spear end or dry at the stem end. Pick packages of equally sized spears so they cook in the same amount of time. Don't wash them before refrigerating the bundles. Simply keep them in the crisper until ready for cooking.
Figure a half-pound of asparagus per person as a main dish. Most asparagus bundles contain 15 to 18 medium-sized spears.
After snapping 3 inches off the bottom of each stem, many chefs stand the bundles vertically in a few inches of water and cook them 8 to 10 minutes until tender.
Always prepare asparagus al dente, keeping in mind that they continue to cook after they are removed from the water.
If you're cooking asparagus for later use, plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. You can cook, rinse and serve them the following day with a vinaigrette or another favorite dressing.
I also cook asparagus in the microwave. Place the trimmed spears in a microwave-safe dish with 1 inch water. Cover and cook on high 5 to 7 minutes until crisp-tender.
I like Asian flavors with asparagus, so I stir-fry them with aromatic spices and hoisin sauce in recipes like my Spring Sesame Ginger Asparagus Stir-Fry.
SPRING SESAME GINGER ASPARAGUS STIR-FRY
Steve's tip: If you add 1 pound cubed firm tofu as you stir-fry the asparagus, this becomes a protein-filled main dish. The Asian condiments can be found in supermarkets or Asian grocery stores. Serve with brown or basmati rice.
Sesame Stir-Fry Sauce:
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 2 bundles medium-thick asparagus, stem ends trimmed, spears cut into 2-inch-lengths on the diagonal (about 30 asparagus)
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
- 8 scallions, sliced into 2-inch lengths
To make sauce: Dissolve the cornstarch in the water or broth. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk to combine.
To make vegetables: Heat oil over high heat in a large saute pan or wok. Add the asparagus, red peppers and scallions. Stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sauce and continue to stir-fry 4 minutes until asparagus is crisp-tender and a sauce forms and thickens in pan. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving (without tofu): 133 calories, 49 percent calories from fat, 7 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, .24 milligram cholesterol, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams total fiber, 7 grams total sugars, 11 grams net carbs, 4 grams protein, 291 milligrams sodium.
Per serving (with tofu): 228 calories, 49 percent calories from fat, 12 grams total fat, 2 grams saturated fat, .24 milligram cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams total fiber, 7 grams total sugars, 12 grams net carbs, 14 grams protein, 295 milligrams sodium.
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Steve Petusevsky is the author of "The Whole Foods Market Cookbook". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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