April weather is capricious—frosty nights, sunny days, even a surprise hailstorm tossed in sometimes. Robert Frost once described an April day in New England. “When the sun is warm and the wind is still,” he wrote, “you feel you’re one month on in the middle of May, but then the sun hides behind a cloud and the wind comes off a frozen peak and you’re two months back in the middle of March.” That’s true here in the Northwest as well.
Spring is in full swing now and we may never quite know what to expect with the weather, but we do know that this is the time of the year when asparagus grows wild in fields in France, and even along the roadsides of Washington’s Yakima Valley.
Asparagus is one of our most luscious culinary gifts and is in the peak of its season now. ‘Tis not surprising that asparagus is the aristocrat of the vegetable kingdom with its delicate grassy flavor, crisp-tender texture, and bright green color.
There are so many ways to prepare asparagus. Some believe that it deserves full attention, so everyone should be seated at the table before the cooking of it begins. After all, it takes only a minute to cook asparagus.
Here’s one way to prepare asparagus. Break the white ends off one pound of asparagus. How much of each stalk do you break off? It’s a snap—hold the base of the stalk and gently pull it into an arch and it will snap where it’s meant to break. The end removed is the tough part; the remaining stalk should be tender after cooking.
Place the asparagus in a shallow skillet and cover it with lukewarm water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and count one minute. Immediately drain the asparagus and place on a cloth napkin to absorb excess moisture, then transfer it to a warm serving dish. Meanwhile, quickly melt 4 tablespoons of butter in the same skillet and just when it begins to bubble and turn a golden brown, pour it over the asparagus. Serve immediately with a wedge of lemon.
There are many who prefer their asparagus with a Hollandaise sauce. Here is a low-fat one. Whisk 1 cup of low-fat milk with 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon of flour in a small pan until well blended and smooth; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes or until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in 1/4 cup of non-fat sour cream, 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Gently heat through; spoon over hot cooked asparagus.
When purchasing asparagus, look for straight spears with full yet compressed tips. Trim the bottoms and stand the asparagus, covered with a plastic bag, in an inch of water in the refrigerator to keep for a few days. The length or width of an asparagus spear has nothing to do with flavor, but the skin on the pencil-thin varieties is more tender. It should not be limp or dry. Choose stalks of uniform size to ensure even cooking. One pound of asparagus will yield three to four servings.
ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH FETA CHEESE
2 pounds of asparagus
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Cook the asparagus until crisp-tender followed with a cold water rinse; drain. Mix white wine vinegar, water, olive oil, oregano, rosemary, fresh lemon juice and Dijon mustard, and marinate the asparagus in fridge overnight. Then drain, reserving the marinade; arrange on Bibb lettuce leaves, sprinkle with the marinade and diced pimiento and crumbled feta cheese and serve.
Roasting became the “in” way to cook vegetables during the ‘90s because roasting brings out the sweetness.
4 pounds of asparagus
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. In a shallow roasting pan toss the asparagus with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the asparagus in a single layer. Roast 10 to15 minutes, until tender and browned, shaking once during roasting. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and toss. Serve within 2 hours.
April evenings are chilly and easy homemade soups make for a nice evening meal, especially if you have been on the road all day.
CHUNKY ASPARAGUS SOUP
1 pound of asparagus
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
4 sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon diced pimientos
2 cups chicken broth
6 oz. milk
1/4 pound cheddar cheese
In a large pot, sauté asparagus that has been chopped, one-half small onion, chopped, and garlic, minced, in a tablespoon of butter for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Add curry powder; simmer 5 more minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and diced pimientos. Stir in chicken broth and milk; heat, but do not boil. Add cheddar cheese that has been cut into 1-inch cubes and stir until melted.
It may be April but winter hangs on in many parts of the country now. Even so, the air has a certain lightness to it, and the sun, although still timid, is more friendly and lingers longer. It is a time of great promise. April is when everything comes to life again after the winter, and we began taking off in our RVs to parts unknown and on roads we have traveled on before. It is a time when our markets come alive with seasonal foods, such as the most elegant and succulent and prized of all our edible plants—asparagus.
HINT OF THE MONTH
No sour cream? Put 4 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, then fill to one level cup with undiluted evaporated milk and whisk.
Marian Platt’s regional narrative cookbook of Washington’s Sequim Valley, From My Kitchen Window, can be ordered by sending cash, check or money order for $25 (includes tax and handling/mailing costs) to Marian Platt, 434 Chicken Coop Rd., Sequim, WA 98382. Phone (360) 683-4691.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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