2014-03-28 / Columns

Cooking on Purpose

Springing ahead with asparagus
By Connie Wendell
Special contributor

Spring ahead: Eat asparagus. That’s my motto. Spring asparagus is so yummy and at this time of the year we get the very best of the crop. It will be awhile until we can see it popping up in our gardens, but the markets have an ample supply.

It’s great just steamed and also in recipes. I’ve included a few of my favorites. Give’ em a try.

Garlic roasted asparagus

1½ pounds fresh asparagus spears; 2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced; 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil; ¼ teaspoon salt; and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Place asparagus and garlic in a 15-inch by 10-inch baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring once halfway through roasting. Serve immediately.

Serves six.

Arugula with pancetta, grilled asparagus and white beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil; ¼ cup red wine vinegar; 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese; 2 garlic cloves; 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper; 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil; 16 spears asparagus, bottom ¼ trimmed; 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste; 2 bunches arugula, trimmed, washed and dried; 1 cup cooked cannellini beans (if canned, rinsed and drained); 1 small red onion, peeled and diced; ¼ pound pancetta, thinly sliced and cooked at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes, until crispy, and drained on paper towels.

Heat the grill or grill pan. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, cheese, garlic and black pepper in a food processor or blender and puree to make a smooth dressing. Transfer to a bowl, stir in basil and set aside.

Fill a large pot with ice and water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook for about 3 minutes, until just tender.

Drain and plunge the asparagus into the ice water to stop cooking, drain again. Rub the asparagus with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and grill over medium heat, turning frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until well seared.

In a medium bowl, combine the arugula, beans and onion. Stir the dressing well and pour just enough onto the arugula-bean mixture to moisten the ingredients.

You will probably have some dressing left over; cover it and refrigerate to keep for up to a week. Toss well, place the salad on a serving platter or individual plates, top with the pancetta and asparagus and serve.

Serves four.

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

1 tablespoon olive oil; 1 bag (26 to 30 per pound size) EZ peel frozen shrimp, thawed and peeled; 2 boxes (5.5 ounces each) garlic flavored risotto; 8 ounces fresh asparagus, ends trimmed, and cut in 1½ to 2½ inch lengths.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12- inch skillet over high heat. Add shrimp; sauté 2 to 3 minutes until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a bowl.

Add rice to skillet; stir 30 seconds. Stir in 5 cups water and the seasoning packets. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in asparagus; simmer for 7 minutes. Stir in shrimp and any juices; cook 1 minute or until asparagus and rice are tender and shrimp are heated through. Delish with lemon.

Serves four.

Enjoy this year’s spring asparagus and until next time, keep Cooking on Purpose.

Connie Wendell can be reached at conniewendell27@gmail.com.

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