It’s Asparagus Time

Posted by Marie - July 5th, 2011

For me the first sign of spring, in addition to the sweet smell of orange blossoms, are the bundled bunches of bright green asparagus on display at the farmer’s market. Much to my delight, the asparagus seasons lingers on and on. Here it is the past the summer solstice, and bunches of asparagus are still everywhere.

 

My favorite spring/summer dinner is a large platter of freshly harvested, hot cooked asparagus surrounded by steaming tiny red skinned potatoes and hard cooked eggs with creamy yolks cut into quarters. I smother this handsome trio in a dressing of rich buttery olive oil (I am partial to California Olive Ranch Arbequina) whisked with lemon juice, handfuls of dill, mint and parsley and a garlic clove. Heavenly.

 

I mostly buy asparagus at the farmer’s market. Here I am almost certain they have been harvested within the last 24 hours which guarantees their peak of sweetness and flavor. They are often bundled according to their girth: pencil thin, medium-sized and big and fat. They remind me of the three bears: baby, Momma and Poppa. In the spirit of “research” I’ve bought all three sized and compare the tastes. I was surprised to discover the baby, or thin spears, while tender enough to nibble raw, have a “grassy” and quite assertive, but pleasant, taste. The Momma, or medium sized, are tender and moderately flavorful and the Poppa, or big ones, are sweet and juicy. I find I favor the fat ones, especially for this celebratory entrée of asparagus, boiled potatoes and warm hard cooked eggs.

 

To prepare asparagus grasp the end just below the tip in one hand and the stem in the other hand and bend the spear. Where the spear breaks it is most tender. Rather than discarding the stem ends, chop, cook in broth with onion and puree with heavy or sour cream for a dreamy soup.

 

Once the stems are trimmed, if I have time, I soak the asparagus in a bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes before cooking. I cook asparagus a couple of ways. For this entrée I boil enough water in a deep skillet to cover the asparagus, add a pinch of salt and the asparagus and boil, uncovered, until fork tender. Freshly harvested asparagus will be tender in as little as 2 minutes, they could take as long as 5 minutes, depending on their girth. Another easy way to cook asparagus is to roast them in a very hot oven. Turn the oven to 400°F., spread the asparagus on a rimmed sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once, until crisp tender. (If serving the asparagus without the potatoes, eggs and herb dressing, I shave Parmigiano Reggiano on the asparagus and let it melt in the oven for a few minutes.)

 

I used to peel the “scales” from the asparagus stem with a vegetable peeled but, I’ve stopped. I decided life is too short to spend time peeling asparagus. Now I have more time for eating them while they’re still in season.

 

Asparagus, Potatoes and Hard Cooked Eggs with Lemon and Herb Dressing

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ½ pounds tiny new or other potatoes
  • 2 bunches (about 1- 1/2 pounds) asparagus, stems trimmed

 

Lemon and Herb Dressing:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 handful (about ½ cup packed) dill sprigs with tender stems
  • 1 handful (about ½ cup packed) mint leaves, thick stems discarded
  • 1 small handful (about ¼ cup packed) Italian parsley leaves with tender stems
  • 1 garlic clove, bruised with the side of a knife
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt, or more to taste

 

1. Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over medium high heat and heat the water just to boiling. Cover and let it sit off the heat 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the hot water and rinse the eggs with cold water. Crack the shells on the side of the pan to allow the water to seep until the shell. Then roll the egg on a flat surface to break the shell. Carefully peel the shell from the warm egg. Set aside.

 

2. While the eggs are cooking, place the potatoes in a separate saucepan, cover with water and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender, about minutes. Drain.

 

3. Blend the olive oil, lemon juice, dill, mint, parsley, garlic and salt until the herbs are very finely chopped. Set aside.

 

4. Boil enough water in a deep skillet to cover the asparagus, add a pinch of salt and the asparagus and boil, uncovered, until fork tender, 2 to 5 minutes depending on their girth. Drain.

 

5. Cut the potatoes into halves or cubes. Add half of the dressing and toss to coat. Arrange the dressed potatoes on one side a large platter. Arrange the asparagus next to the potatoes. Quarter the eggs and place them between the potatoes and asparagus. Serve the remaining dressing on the side for each person to add to taste.

 

Make 2 to 4 servings

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