asparagus

Spring is racing by and asparagus are plentiful right now here in sunny Northern California. But it won’t last. This is the time of year when this beautiful vegetable tastes best. It is true that nowadays one can buy any vegetable or fruit basically whenever but the difference is in taste and in the size of the carbon footprint. I am always dubious about veggies that arrive at my table following intercontinental flights. They’re often as flavorful as cardboard. I’m not impressed. We’re better off eating seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible.

roasted asparagus and chickpeas with toasted sesame oil, Meyer lemon and fresh mint

roasted asparagus and chickpeas with toasted sesame oil, Meyer lemon and fresh mint

Speaking of local I’m thinking of planting some asparagus in our community garden plot. The reason I didn’t before is that our last plot was a bit too small. Asparagus plants take about two years to produce and you can’t rotate crops in the area where they’re grown. A couple of the other community gardeners have them growing in their plots. It’s cool to watch the spears shooting out from the ground in springtime. Left alone, they grow into big wispy bushes: very interesting and even decorative. If I do it now, maybe in a couple years I can make this salad again with asparagus grown on Potrero Hill, just a few blocks away. Now that’s very local!

This recipe is so good that it can’t wait. I like the combination of legume and vegetable here. The flavors that the Meyer lemon, sesame oil and mint impart to the dish are singular: smoky, herby and slightly tart. You can serve this dish either warm or at room temperature as a main dish with a green salad or as a side dish to go with anything really. I’ve adapted it from asparagus recipes.

key ingredients for roasted asparagus and chickpeas with toasted sesame oil, Meyer lemon and fresh mint

key ingredients for roasted asparagus and chickpeas with toasted sesame oil, Meyer lemon and fresh mint

roasted asparagus and chickpeas with toasted sesame oil, Meyer lemon and fresh mint

2 bunches of asparagus, rinsed, dried, each spear cut into 3 pieces
3½ cups prepared chickpeas, drained (canned is okay)
4 tbsp olive oil
¾ tbsp toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt to taste
~ 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Several fresh mint leaves, chopped
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 450F.

Place asparagus, chick peas, sesame and olive oils, salt and black pepper in a bowl and toss to combine. Spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and toss. Position rack closer to grill, return to oven and continue roasting for an additional 5-8 minutes. This will allow for some of the chickpeas and asparagus pieces to brown. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Toss in lemon juice, lemon zest , mint and serve!

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black pepper fettuccine in chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper annd spinach

black pepper fettuccine in chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper and spinach

I spotted this recipe in the latest edition of Vegetarian Times magazine. The recipe is part of a funny article inviting loving couples to come spend their time and money at the Stanford Inn by the Sea for Valentine’s Day. The Inn’s renowned vegetarian restaurant, Raven’s, is run by Chefs Sally Owens and Merlyn Alvarado. I’ve checked both the hotel and restaurant (on-line) and they look sublime! These two local “celebrity” chefs have paired together to create vegetarian recipes with aphrodisiac properties just for the holiday. Everything uses locally and organically grown vegetables from Mendocino.

Among the several recipes, I was particularly excited by the creamy fettuccine with raw cashew nut sauce. It is completely vegan: no dairy at all! However, the name of the recipe in Vegetarian Times (“Black pepper fettuccine with chardonnay sauce and grilled asparagus”) omits the cashews, which is a major component here. I wonder why? We all know that black pepper for the most part comes from India and it’s been part of our culinary experience for so long that we don’t even think of it as a foreign ingredient. So why mention it and leave out the somewhat more exotic cashew? In Indian cooking cashew nuts have been used to thicken soups forever, or at least since the cashew plant made its journey from South America to India a few hundred years ago… And why praise the grilled asparagus over the more commonplace red bell pepper and humble baby spinach? Hmmm. Certainly it isn’t because the name becomes crazy long, as they’ve plenty of room for that in VT. So to prevent hard feelings among the lovely ingredients, I have renamed this dish accordingly. 😉 lol

VT has adapted the recipe from the original and I have done the same, readapting it to my tastes. The proportion of each ingredient didn’t seem right to me so I modified them a bit. I have made dishes from VT in the past and have found that sometimes things are a bit off. I wonder if they have a test-kitchen? VT here’s a suggestion from me: test before you publish, like we do.

fettuccine in black pepper chardonnay cashew nut sauce with asparagus, red bell pepper and spinach

2 cups raw cashew nuts
2 cups chardonnay
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
Juice of a large lemon (~ 3 tbsp)
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lb fettuccine cooked per package instructions
2 cups baby spinach
1 bunch asparagus bottom tips peeled
½ red bell pepper cut into fine strips
Kosher salt

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Add enough water to cashews to barely cover them in a small bowl. Microwave for about 2 minutes. Remove and let rest a bit. Transfer cashew nuts and water to food processor and whiz until nuts have turned into a smooth paste. Do not skip the microwaving part otherwise the paste will not become smooth and glossy.

Place the wine in a saucepan and bring to near boil, turn temperature to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cashew nut paste, lemon juice, black pepper, kosher salt and whisk to combine, taste and adjust flavors. It should be creamy, tangy and a bit peppery. Add more warm water if too thick.

Place asparagus and red bell pepper on two different baking trays, sprinkle with a tiny amount of salt and black pepper and tiny drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm.

Meanwhile cook pasta following cooking instructions from package, put spinach leaves in toward the last 30 seconds. Drain.

Transfer pasta with spinach to a bowl. Toss with half of the sauce, scatter asparagus spears and red pepper slices over and serve.

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Another great dish we found in Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” is this delightful and simple recipe for asparagus with eggs and capers. He calls it an “asparagus mimosa” in the book.

asparagus with hardboiled egg and capers

asparagus with hardboiled egg and capers

We actually had this same dish a couple of months ago at the stylish and trendy Contigo, a Catalan restaurant in the Noe Valley district here in San Francisco. Their food is all tapas-style and gorgeous. At Contigo, the dish is tweaked with the addition of tuna prosciutto, something I had never seen before. It resembled bonito flakes, those dried fish shavings used in dashi broth in Japanese cooking. It was delicious and I promised myself that I would make it at home but forgot with the craziness of our kitchen remodel.

Ottolenghi’s book arrived just before the end of asparagus season. Apparently Ottolengi himself came by, too. Turns out that he was the guest of honor at a special dinner at Contigo on July 12th. Bummer! Besides missing the chef wizard, we a great special menu! Oh well, there’s always next time.

asparagus with hardboiled egg and capers

3 lbs asparagus spears, woody parts at bottom discarded
3 organic eggs
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp capers with some of the brine
Sea salt
Black pepper

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil, reduce temperature to medium low and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Turn temperature off. Let eggs sit in hot water for 4 minutes. Drain water and let eggs cool down to room temperature. Grate or chop fine.

Add ½ of the capers, some of the brine and olive oil to a bowl. Crush capers a bit with the help of a spoon. Set aside.

Add asparagus to a large pot of boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter and drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Add crushed caper sauce, capers and grated eggs. For cuteness leave tips of asparagus clear of dressing.

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I’ve always been curious about baking with puff pastry yet this is my first time: a puff pastry virgin no more!

Last week I saw a beautiful recipe on the cool blog, gourmet food, for asparagus tart with caprino de cabra that convinced me that is was about time for me to give it a try. The recipe uses lots of dairy. Aside from the filling, the puff pastry is loaded with butter. I was saving up, having eaten mostly vegan that week, so I splurged a bit with this one.

asparagus, fava and edamame tart

asparagus, fava and edamame tart

our weekend redwood forest retreat

our weekend redwood forest retreat

This was for a picnic lunch on our recent wine-tasting weekend trip to beautiful Sonoma County. We planned it around the spring wine pick-up at Williams Selyem. People are so excited about that winery. Several of our friends wanted to go with us but most of them bagged it when they learned that the event coincided with Mother’s Day. Chris was free, which was perfect. And we were extra lucky this time: our friends Devin and Jocelyn invited us to stay in their new cabin in the woods in Guerneville. (Unfortunately they couldn’t come themselves: a wedding in Southern California.) The cabin is nestled among so many stunning and remarkably tall redwood trees. The trees surrounding the house were enormous! I always feel like I’m inside a cathedral when I am among redwoods. Awesome.

asparagus, fava and edamame tart

¾ lb asparagus
½ cup fava beans, shelled, blanched and popped out of their inner shells
½ cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp flour
1 container frozen puffy pastry (14oz or ~400grams)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
4tbsp sweet onions, chopped fine
3 tbsp parsley
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
4-5 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Crushed red pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Chives for decoration

some key ingredients for asparagus, fava and edamame

some key ingredients for asparagus, fava and edamame

fresh asparagus and fava beans

fresh asparagus and fava beans

preparing the vegetables

preparing the vegetables

Defrost puffy pastry in the fridge for 20-24h. Bring to room temperature 3 hours before use.

Peel asparagus outer skin and discard then cut tips off and reserve for decorating the top of the pie. Using potato peeler, shave all spears thinly.

Using a saucepan, combine shaved asparagus, onion, olive oil, water and milk. Bring it close to a boil and cook for a couple minutes. Add edamame and fava. Continue cooking for another minute or so. Juices should be absorbed by the vegetables. Mine didn’t completely, so to thicken it, I dissolved a tablespoon of flour in 1 or 2 tablespoon of cold water and poured it over vegetables. Mix to incorporate. Remove from heat.

Add salt, peppers, cheese, parsley and egg yolks. Immediately mix to combine then let cool for about 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F

Stretch puffy pastry in a rectangular Pyrex type glass baking dish leaving some dough along the edges. Pour vegetable mix over pastry. Attractively arrange asparagus tips on top. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top and bake in the oven for about 35 minutes. Edges will turn into a golden color and become a bit flaky. Remove from oven. Let cool down completely.

Now get a good bottle of wine, some country bread and enjoy the spring.

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roasted purple asparagus with semi-dried Roma tomatoes

I saw this purple asparagus at TJ’s the other day and I couldn’t resist. It’s so beautiful and fresh, and, well, so purple! I just baked them in the oven with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and tossed a few quartered semi-dried Roma tomatoes I had made earlier. The flavors were amazing! Here’s the recipe:

roasted purple asparagus with semi-dried Roma tomatoes

for the tomatoes:

6 large Roma tomatoes
1 tsp brown sugar
Kosher salt
Black pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1 clove garlic mashed

fresh purple asparagus

for the asparagus:

1 bunch of purple asparagus, fibrous bases removed
1 clove garlic
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil

to prepare tomatoes:

Wash tomatoes. Remove stem and top where fruit attaches to stem. Split each tomato into quarters. Toss with sugar, salt, pepper, thyme and one tbsp olive oil. Lay tomato quarters on a cooling rack within ½ inch from each other (the rack is to keep tomatoes suspended above the roasting pan so they will not sit in the juice). Bake in the oven at 310-315F for a couple of hours or until they have shriveled to about ½ of their size. Remove from oven. Toss with mashed garlic and remaining olive oil.

to prepare asparagus:

Pre heat the oven to 430F

Place asparagus in a baking tray. Add garlic, salt, pepper, balsamic and olive oil and toss to coat. Cover with tin foil and bake for 12 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Transfer to a serving dish and add the semi dried tomatoes.

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Spring is the time to eat fresh asparagus. We’ve been seeing this delicate and often misunderstood vegetable everywhere lately: at the supermarket and specialty food shops, in farmers’ markets and discount grocers; even at Costco. This is one of those foods that children turn their noses up at (at least that’s what I used to do when I was young.) Perhaps the issue is the unusual shape? Or, maybe it’s the flavor, which is very distinct, though yummy, that takes some people time to adjust to. Whatever it is, now’s the time to get over it!

fresh asparagus with kalamata olives and Meyer lemon zest

I threw this dish together the other day while preparing Roman tomato pasta, one of my perennial favorites. It’s handy to make the two together because you can use the boiling water for pasta to cook the asparagus. Thus you save a pot and more clean up.

The lemon zest makes this especially aromatic without distracting from the asparagus-ness of the dish.

Fresh Asparagus with Kalamata Olives and Meyer Lemon Zest

1 large handful fresh asparagus
12 kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
Zest form one Meyer lemon
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste

If asparagus has woody bases, remove these before cooking. If they are thick, using a potato peeler, remove some of the outer layers at the base of each stalk.

To blanch, first boil asparagus until just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes, then immediately throw in an ice water bath. This stops cooking and keeps both the texture right and the color fresh.

Toss with the other ingredients and serve at room temperature as a salad, appetizer or side dish.

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We had this asparagus recipe for the first time a couple of years ago. Prepared by our talented (and recently engaged!) dear friend Kristen, we fell in love with it immediately and have been making it since.

fire roasted asparagus with cilantro, orange and cumin pesto

Taking advantage of the spring and the start of asparagus season, the time of year when these spears taste best, I made it for dinner last Sunday to enjoy with Steven, Deby and Xanthe.

It takes a bit of time but I guarantee you will love it. I like to serve it at parties because of its stunning look. The dish is versatile and can match with anything really. You and your guests will oooh and aaah over the layers of flavor; ranging from tangy, to spicy, to sweet and savory.

some key ingredients for fire roasted asparagus with cilantro, orange and cumin pesto

Fire Roasted Asparagus with Cilantro, Orange and Cumin Pesto

2-3 lb fresh asparagus (~30 spears)
1 Italian loaf cut into 1½ inch thick slices
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup fresh juice (about 5 oranges*)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/3 cup almond oil
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
¼ cup olive oil
½ bunch chopped chives
1 fresh garlic clove, mashed or pressed
1 cup parmesan cheese, shaved into thin slivers
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pesto:

Juice oranges and pour liquid into a small pan. Simmer to reduce until about ½ cup. Let cool completely.

Place cumin seeds on a hot skillet and toast for about a minute or till aromatic. Transfer to a mortar and pulverize.

Add reduced orange juice, cilantro, cumin, almond oil, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice to food processor and pulse for few seconds till all ingredients are blended. Taste and adjust flavors with more salt, pepper or lemon juice as desired.

To prepare asparagus:

Cut bottom bit of asparagus off. If the stalks are thick, using a potato peeler, peel outer rough layer off lower portion of each stalk. Blanch asparagus by boiling or steaming for about 3-4 minutes or till al dente, then immediately remove from pan and submerging in ice water to stop cooking and to preserve a bright green color.

Drain asparagus. Add salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to asparagus and toss to coat.

Pre-heat grill to 450F. Place asparagus and bread on grill and roast them for 3 to 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Asparagus may require a little extra grilling to get those nice brown marks. Remove from grill.

Cut toasted bread into 1×1 inch cubes.

To assemble:

Place asparagus and bread on a large platter. Add chives, garlic and parmesan shavings then toss by hand. Add cilantro pesto and toss again. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve. Yum! I even enjoyed the leftovers the next day at work.

*For the best flavor, your orange juice must come from oranges, not bottles or cans. For the same reason, it is crucial that you toast and grind your cumin seeds rather than use pre-ground cumin.

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winter and spring salad

by Heguiberto on March 12, 2010

Asparagus tastes best in early spring. Have you ever seen them growing in a field? I have. The spears shoot off the ground in search of sunlight and you have to go harvest them right away while they’re at their tender-most best. That’s what I think the guys at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market did the previous week because I saw a couple of vegetable stands only offering beautiful asparagus. They made a gorgeous and very appealing display. Those farmers sure know how to market effectively! Unluckily, we forgot to charge the camera battery so didn’t get a pic. I did get two bunches of asparagus just the same.

winter and spring salad

I’ve improvised this recipe from one that my work colleague, Tri Nguyen suggested. His calls for tomatoes, but it’s still too early for any good ones right now. Instead, I swapped organic yellow beets for tomato and made the salad more “right now” with the seasons. This salad is in homage to the end of Winter and beginning of Spring: asparagus represents Springtime and beets, Winter. The colors reminded me of the Brazilian flag, which I liked. The salad itself tastes wonderful: crunchy and velvety with a citrus tingle and a tiny kick form the Dijon mustard. Mmmmm!

Usually I make salad dressings in a classic style with extra virgin olive oil, lime or/and lemon and red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and occasionally a bit of fresh garlic. My friend, John P, has persuaded me to branch out from time to time with other oils and ingredients. I’ve used almond oil fairly successfully in salads and in my cashew Brazil nut butter. Almond oil has a very mild, neutral flavor that allows the other salad ingredients to really shine. You should try it.

Whenever I make beets, I can’t help but think of the GoGo’s classic hit.

Winter and Spring Salad: Roasted Yellow Beet and Asparagus Tips with Walnut Oil Orange Dressing

salad ingredients:

2 bunches asparagus
2 bunches medium sized yellow beets washed and scrubbed (6 beets)
½ bunch chopped parsley

dressing:

Juice of ½ Texas or other sweet orange
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar
3 to 4 tbsp almond oil
2 tbsp water
½ tsp coarse ground Dijon mustard
Kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot cut into thin slices and rinsed in cold water
1 crushed clove of garlic

Clean beets well and remove stems and leafy parts. Crowd beets in a small baking pan. Add a thin layer of water to the pan. Cover with foil and roast at high temperature (400 F) for about one hour or longer until tender. Remove foil about half way through cooking. This will ensure your beets roast, preserve their flavor and don’t become shriveled like prunes. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Peel beets and cut them into chunks. Transfer to a bowl.

be sure to clean your beets well

Steam or boil asparagus for few minutes until soft but still crunchy. Immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool and retain its color. Cut tips of spears and add to beets. Reserve edible stems for another day.

Place water, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, crushed garlic, salt, pepper and shallot in a jar. Cover and shake it. Let it stand at room temperature for about 8 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and shake again. Let rest for another 5 minutes. Adjust flavors to taste.

Add parsley to beets and asparagus then toss with dressing. Serve.

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