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Monday, May 25, 2009

Asparagus- the fleeting vegetable!

One of the greatest summer vegetables is also one of the most fleeting. Asparagus is available year round if you know where to look and are willing to pay the price, but the season for fresh asparagus in the northeast is a 6-7 week window that must be taken advantage of if not missed entirely. Asparagus is not only delicious but packed with nutrients like potassium, fiber, vitamins B6, A, and C. A perfect side dish or accompaniment to almost any summer dish, these green spears beg to be cooked simply, seasoned well and eaten outside at a summer barbecue.

Green asparagus is the most familiar type to the average supermarket cart pusher, but seeking out farmers markets can yield interesting if not colorful results. Asparagus also comes in white and purple forms which provide even more uses for the summer perennial. Purple asparagus derives its color from additional anthrocyanin which also give color to beets, blackberries and eggplant. Purple asparagus also has a higher sugar content giving it a sweeter taste.

White asparagus is known as a delicacy and is a great deal more expensive than its green and purple cousins. Grown in the dark, the lack of sunlight stops photosynthesis and blocks chlorophyll from forming. Farmers used to just cover the spears with dirt when they first began to pop out of the ground, but this resulted in a sort of blind harvesting that would damage the asparagus. Now they are grown in black polyhouses which allow minimal light through to the actual plant.

My favorite way to enjoy asparagus are simply grilled over charcoal or wood, covered in olive oil, seasoned liberally with salt and topped with parmigiano-reggiano cheese. I use the leftovers the next day for a delicious asparagus frittata.

Grilled asparagus

You will need:
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup freshly ggrated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Begin by cleaning the asparagus. Take each spear in your hand and snap off the root end gently where it naturally breaks. This removes the tough, fibrous part of the plant while leaving the entire edible spear intact. Toss spears in olive oil and place across the grates of a hot grill so they don’t fall between the cracks. Close the lid for two minutes. Take the spears off the grill once they have turned a bright shade of green and are tender but still have a little bit of bite to them. Season with salt, fresh cracked black pepper and top with parmigiano -reggiano cheese.

Asparagus Frittata

You will need:

Last night’s leftover asparagus, approx 1/2 bunch cooked and cooled
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 white onion, small dice
2 garlic cloves minced
6 eggs beaten
Salt and pepper
Parmiginao-reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut asparagus spears down into 1/2” chunks reserving six whole spears. Melt butter in an oven proof skillet over medium heat and add onion and garlic and sweat until tender, about five minutes. Add the eggs and asparagus. Season with salt, pepper and cheese and bake in the oven for ten minutes or until the eggs are almost set. Place the six whole spears on top of the frittata in a star shape and top with more parmigiano cheese. Finish baking until eggs are completely set, cheese is melted and asparagus on top is hot.

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