Stalk-Worthy

Recipes for the season’s freshest asparagus.

All good things take time. Asparagus is one of them.

Its slender deep green stalks require two to three years of nurturing before maturing for harvest, which means it’s a good thing there are more than 30 asparagus farms across the state ready to supply us when spring arrives. The tender vegetable was originally cultivated more than 2,000 years ago along the Nile River in ancient Egypt and introduced to America by the pilgrims (it was particularly popular during Colonial times). Ever since, it has been prized both for its health benefits and flavor.

Though available at grocery stores and restaurants year-round, asparagus peaks from April to June. With prime season coming to an end, do what asparagus super-fan Thomas Jefferson would have done and enjoy this low-calorie, low-sodium, and vitamin-rich vegetable by cooking up a few of our favorite recipes.


Asparagus Soup


8 cups water
3 bunches asparagus
1 ounce unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
½  of one small onion, diced
1 medium shallot, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste
for garnish, unsweetened whipped cream, lemon zest and
juice, salt, sugar

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, reserving the ends (about 1 1⁄2 inches each). Salt the water and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus ends and blanch for 8 to 10 minutes, and then fish out and discard them. Meanwhile, cut the rest of the asparagus into 2- to 3-inch lengths. Blanch them in the rapidly boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes, then scoop them out with a strainer and immediately shock them in an ice water bath, to stop the cooking and retain the color.

In a pot, melt the butter with the olive oil, and sauté the onion and shallot until soft but not brown. Add the flour, and cook slowly for 3 to 4 minutes, until it makes a light roux. Slowly add 3 cups of the asparagus stock and bring to a boil; add in another 3 cups; add 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Bring once more to a boil, and then cool it enough to puree it with the blanched asparagus. (Discard the remaining liquid, or use it for another dish.)

Garnish with a drizzle of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar, and finish with a dollop of whipped cream seasoned with grated lemon zest. 


Salmon and Asparagus Penne


½  cup dry-roasted pine nuts
¾  cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
½  brown onion, chopped
½  cup sun-dried tomatoes, quartered
1 bunch tender asparagus, cut to 2-inch lengths and lightly steamed
1 lb. fresh salmon
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Gently sauté the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until soft and golden, and set aside. Rub the piece of salmon with fresh sea salt and cracked pepper. Pan fry in a tablespoon of oil—about 8 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool. Remove the skin from the salmon and break up the piece into bite sized chunks. In a large pan, boil a large amount of salted water, and cook one pound of spirali pasta until al dente. Gently toss all the ingredients in a large serving dish, and serve hot.

Serves 4


Asparagus Tempura


1 bunch of asparagus
batter
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup ice water
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
vegetable or peanut oil for deep-frying
dipping sauce
1 cup dashi (Japanese fish stock)
⅓  cup soy sauce
⅓  cup mirin
½  cup daikon radish, grated
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated

Snap the ends from the asparagus stalks, and make sure that the asparagus is completely dry. Heat oil. While oil heats, make batter: Beat the egg yolk, add the ice water and mix, then add the seeds and the flour all at once. Stir gently until just barely combined—you want the batter very lumpy. When a bit of batter dropped into the oil sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Piece by piece, dip the asparagus in the batter and carefully lay it into the oil. Cook each spear until the batter is golden.

Drain briefly on paper towels, and serve immediately with dipping sauce (combine dipping sauce ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat; serve warm).

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