Simply seasonal: The elegant asparagus |

Simply seasonal: The elegant asparagus

Asparagus, with their long slim stalks and snazzy headdress, have long been considered a luxury vegetable. Besides its fancy appearance, this perennial is nurtured for at least two years before being harvested as an edible plant. The surprise is that for the patient gardener, the third year is a charm. The asparagus are bountiful and will continue to grow almost effortlessly for the next twenty years. The plant is extremely easy to grow. All this member of the lily family needs is a cool but temperate climate and sandy soil. The asparagus prefers soil that freezes to a depth of two inches allowing its underground crown a long winters rest. The first two years of growth will produce tall, skinny stalks with feathery fronds all along its sides. The farmer will simply trim the stalks and fronds letting them fall in place to mulch the soil. By the third year, the shoots from the crown will grow shorter and the familiar asparagus are harvested at about 10-12 inches tall. The harvest continues from April to May before going dormant again. This two-year wait followed by a short harvesting season deem the asparagus its luxury status.Now is the time to enjoy this spring veggie at its abundant best. Ironically, it is one of the fastest and simplest to prepare, needing only a squeeze of fresh lemon to complement the flavor. Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef at Restaurant Avondale, encourages using asparagus in a variety of spring dishes. Its a versatile addition to a meal, he says, and lends itself to fast preparation. You can grill, steam, stir fry, or roast asparagus and in about 10 minutes its ready to eat. Combine it with protein as a main dish or let it complement your entre as a side dish. It works equally well with meat, fish, grains or other vegetables.Besides its simplicity of preparation, asparagus is a healthy addition to your diet. Few calories per serving, no fat or cholesterol, this spring veggie is full of vitamins K, B, A, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants. Take advantage of great pricing on asparagus right now by trying some of Jeremys easy weekday recipes. He is quick to say that a recipe is really not necessary with this spring superstar. Its crisp-tender texture and earthy flavor go well with anything. Try substituting it into your regular dishes for a new twist on family favorites.

1/2 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced8 ounces soft cheese (boursin, Neufchatel, or mild goat)16 spears fresh asparagus, trimmedPreheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread prosciutto slices with cheese. Wrap 4 asparagus spears with _ of the proscuitto slices. Continue with the rest of the asparagus and proscuitto. Arrange wrapped spears in a single layer on a medium baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until asparagus are tender. Serves 4.

3 Tb. soy sauce3 Tb. fresh lemon juice1 tsp. grated lemon zest1 tsp. cornstarch1 pound chicken breasts, cut into strips1 Tb. canola oil2 garlic cloves, finely chopped4 scallions, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces1/2 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces1 carrot, juliennedIn a glass dish, stir together soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, and cornstarch. Add chicken pieces and coat well with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. Heat oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet. Add garlic and fry until softened. Reserving the marinade, add chicken followed by the scallions, asparagus and carrots. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink. Add marinade and cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Serves 4.

1/2 cup olive oil1 onion, finely chopped4 cloves garlic, minced2 Tb. fresh rosemary, minced1/2 tsp. saltFreshly ground pepper to taste1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces1/2 lb. penne pasta Juice of 2 lemonsParmesan cheese, freshly gratedCook pasta in boiling water. When pasta is about half-cooked, make the sauce.Heat oil in skillet. Saut onion and garlic over medium low for 4 minutes. Add rosemary, salt and pepper. Saut another minute. Do not allow brown. Add lemon juice and asparagus to onion mixture and simmer one minute. Add shrimp and simmer a few minutes until cooked. Toss with drained pasta. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 2.

1/4 cup butter2 ounces uncooked spaghetti, broken into small pieces1/4 cup minced onion1/2 tsp. minced garlic1 1/4 cups uncooked jasmine rice2 1/4 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch piecesSalt and pepper to taste1/2 cup cashew halvesMelt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Increase heat to medium, and stir in spaghetti, cooking until coated with the melted butter and lightly browned. Stir onion and garlic into the saucepan, and cook about 2 minutes, until tender. Stir in jasmine rice, and cook about 5 minutes. Pour in broth and season mixture with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Add asparagus and continue to cook, covered, until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed. Mix cashew halves into the rice mixture, and serve warm. Serves 6. (Add grilled chicken strips to make this a delicious entre.)

Avondale opened in September 2008 at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, Colorado. The restaurant features a West Coast inspired, seasonal menu and utilizes time honored cooking methods, such as slow roasting and braising, to create simple dishes rich in flavor. The wine program is progressive in both its pricing and offerings, focusing on small production wines to compliment the straightforward cuisine. The space is reflective of the time and features a seamless blend of natural materials inspired by the surrounding landscape. For more information:

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