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Colorado asparagus – a sure sign of spring

Chef Mick Rosacci
Special to the Daily/Chef Mick Rosacci The best asparagus of the year has just started to arrive from Colorado farms. Get it while you can!
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Scientists, doctors and moms have been telling us to eat more fresh vegetables for years, and with fresh, local asparagus in stores now, it’s a pleasure.

Delicious and healthy, asparagus contains glutathione, an anticarcinogen, and folacin, a B vitamin that helps with cell repair and reproduction of blood cells. It is also an excellent source of potassium, fiber, vitamins A, B6, C and folic acid; so asparagus is a great way to treat your taste buds and your body!

When choosing asparagus, freshness is everything, so buy Colorado-grown asparagus whenever possible. Select the freshest looking bunches with a firm, crisp texture, avoiding any that are tattered, dry, mushy or generally tired looking.

Most folks think that thin asparagus spears are the best, but this is not necessarily so. Asparagus grows quickly, sending up shoots that are ready to cut in a day or two. The thinness/thickness is a result of temperature – as daytime temperatures rise, the spears get thicker, and when it gets really hot, they get thin again (and rather strong tasting). Certainly “pencil-thin” stalks can be excellent, but medium to thick stalks are often milder, crisper and juicier.

Asparagus is easy to cook, just don’t overcook it or you’ll end up with a limp, lifeless mess of mush. Cooking times vary, so test for doneness by taking a bite once the color starts to change. Perfectly cooked asparagus should be tender, yet still crisp and juicy.

Steaming and boiling are the most popular preparation methods for asparagus, but sautéing, roasting and grilling yield a fuller flavor. Here are a variety of recipes and preparation styles. The local season lasts for months so there’s time to try them all!

Buon appetito. Salùte!

Chef Michael Angelo (Mick) Rosacci and family own and operate Tony’s Meats & Specialty Foods and Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering in Littleton and Centennial. More recipes are available at http://www.TonysMarket.com.

Asparagus and tomato salad

1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Break off asparagus ends at the point where the stems snap easily; discard ends. In a large skillet, bring about 1 cup salted water to a boil and add the asparagus. Cover and simmer until just tender; drain.

Meanwhile, in a 10-by-6-inch baking dish, mix oil, lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and sugar. Add hot asparagus, turning to coat the spears with the dressing (or use a bottled dressing). Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, turning once.

Arrange asparagus on a platter. Toss tomatoes with the dressing left in the baking dish and spoon over the asparagus. Serves 4.

Asparagus and prosciutto

2 pounds asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped

2 tablespoons butter

Grated ricotta salada, asiago, or parmigiano-reggiano

Trim asparagus and steam briefly just until tender; drain. Heat oil in a large stick-free skillet, add prosciutto and fry until it begins to crisp. Add asparagus and sauté to heat through. Remove from heat and melt butter in hot pan. Transfer asparagus and prosciutto to serving platter, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

Chinese style asparagus

1 1/2 pounds asparagus

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Asian red chili oil

Toasted sesame seeds

Toast sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking every few minutes until aromatic and toasted. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Break tough ends off of asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces at a diagonal. Add to pot and boil until tender, crisp and bright green. Remove from hot water and immediately plunge into cold water to cool. Transfer to paper towels and pat completely dry.

Whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil and red chili oil. Toss with asparagus in a serving bowl, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Baked asparagus with parmigiano-reggiano

1 pound asparagus, tough ends broken off

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

parmigiano-reggiano

1-2 teaspoons sweet balsamico*

1 tablespoon chopped parsley or chives

Place dry asparagus spears in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour olive oil over asparagus spears and roll until evenly coated. Arrange in a single layer and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover dish with foil and bake in a moderate oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp and tender.

Slice slivers from a piece of parmigiano-reggiano over the asparagus. Return to the oven and continue roasting just until the cheese softens. Serve immediately, sprinkled with parsley or snipped chives and a drizzle of sweet balsamic vinegar. Serves 4.

*Variation: Simply use a prepared vinaigrette, such as Italian or Caesar.

Grilled asparagus

fresh asparagus

garlic infused or Italian lemon olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh lemon juice and zest (optional)

grated asiago or parmigiano-reggiano cheese (optional)

Break woody ends off of asparagus spears by hand. Transfer to a plate and drizzle with garlic-infused or lemon olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Lay all spears in the same direction on your grill (or in a grilling basket) over medium coals, rolling left and right as needed. Once toasted, (usually 5-7 minutes) transfer to a plate, squeeze with lemon and sprinkle with lemon or orange zest.

Risotto with asparagus

1 quart chicken stock (approximately)

1 pound asparagus

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 onion, finely sliced or diced

1 1/2 cups short-grained Arborio or Carnaroli rice

2-3 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup dry white wine, warmed

1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

salt and white pepper

Bring stock to a simmer. Wash asparagus, break off woody ends and reserve. Blanch asparagus spears 1-2 minutes in chicken stock. Remove and cut into 1-inch pieces, separating the tips from the remainder of the stalks. Return the white ends of the stalks to the simmering broth (this is not eaten, just simmered in the stock to increase flavor).

In a heavy, 3-quart saucepan, sauté the onion slowly in the oil to soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice and continue to sauté, stirring regularly, until the grains have turned translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the warmed wine and cook until it has evaporated.

Add the 1-inch lengths of asparagus to the rice and begin stirring in the liquid, a ladle full at a time, stirring regularly. Keep the pot at a lively simmer, adding stock one ladle full at a time and stirring regularly.

Check and adjust seasoning as the rice cooks. When the rice is soft but still nutty, add one final ladle of stock, butter and half the grated cheese (cream is nice too). Let risotto stand covered for 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving dish, garnishing with remaining asparagus tips and topping with parmigiano-reggiano cheese as desired. Serves 4-6.

Asparagus flan

This is a classic Italian sformato – an easy yet elegant meal centerpiece.

2 pounds fresh asparagus spears

5 eggs

scant 1 1/4 cups whole milk

3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese

salt to taste

a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

butter and breadcrumbs to line the pan

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash the asparagus spears and break off white, woody ends, then boil in lightly salted water just until soft. Remove to a plate, cool and cut into inch-long lengths, setting the tips aside.

Liberally butter a 10-11-inch pie or tart pan and coat the insides with the breadcrumbs.

Beat the milk, eggs, nutmeg and grated cheese in a bowl. Pour the mixture into the pan and add the asparagus stalks (they’ll float). Bake the sformato for about 10 minutes, then add the tips, sprinkling them over the top, and bake for another 20 minutes, or until it has firmed up throughout.

Let cool and serve sliced, with a fairly rich, white wine. Serves 8.

Asparagi alla parmigiana

2 pounds asparagus

1 cup freshly grated parmigiano

1/4 cup meat sauce or unsalted butter

2 hard-boiled eggs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash the asparagus and cook them in bunches, upright in lightly salted, boiling water sufficient to reach up to where the stalks shift from white to green – so the bases will be boiled while the tips are steamed.

When they are cooked (5-8 minutes, or until the tips begin to droop), cut away and discard the white parts and arrange the spears in an oven-proof dish, dusting each layer with parmigiano, butter or meat sauce and crumbled hard-boiled egg.

Slip the pan into a preheated, 375-degree oven until sizzling and brown.

– Translated from La Cucina Napoletana

Asparagus with roasted peppers and shallots

2 pounds asparagus

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons shallots

4 ounces roasted peppers, cut into strips

salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons oregano leaves, chopped

Break tough ends off of the asparagus and slice on the bias into 2-inch pieces. Steam or boil until bright green, crisp and tender; drain.

Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium flame. Add the shallots and sauté until the slices are crisp and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and blot on paper towels.

Add the asparagus, red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss over a medium flame until heated through. Add the oregano and heat one minute longer. Serve with the browned shallots scattered over the top.


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