Learning to love asparagus -- it's all about the cooking
Asparagus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the vegetable kingdom: It gets no respect.
“I was raised by a mother who refused to allow me to say the word asparagus, let alone buy it or allow it into the house,” said Jessica Swartz of Louisville. "I was in graduate school before I even tasted it.”
Why is spring’s spear beloved by some but despised by so many?
“The main problem is overcooking,” said Joe Pileggi, caterer and deli owner.
Pileggi converted Wendy Menegay into an asparagus fan. Menegay, who works near Pileggi’s Imported Foods on Tuscarawas Street W, was sitting at the lunch counter commenting on her lack of experience with asparagus.
“My mom was a real good cook, but she didn’t make asparagus,” Menegay said. “It’s gotten popular the last few years and I said I wanted to make it but didn’t know if I’d like it.”
Pileggi guaranteed she’d love it if he taught her the right way to cook it.
Blanch and Shock
“You cook it very, very little, like blanching, then shock it,” he explained. “Boiling salted water is a must, for three to four minutes, then you immediately immerse it — that’s shocking — in an ice bath to retain the bright green color.”
Pileggi and Menegay worked together to create a recipe from “Crowd Pleasers,” the cookbook from the Junior League of Canton. The asparagus is boiled briefly, shocked, then served with a gorgeous yellow pepper sauce.
Yellow bell peppers are roasted, puréed with lemon juice and olive oil, then poured over the asparagus. This simple recipe, pleasing to the eye and palate, can be served warm or at room temperature.
Jessica Swartz is still trying to find her inner asparagus lover.
“A friend and I made dinner one night and she made asparagus. She was determined to have me love it, too, since she knew my mom hated it. She just steamed it with a bit of butter,” Swartz said. “Later I tried to steam it, but it tasted awful. So it is still not one of my go-to vegetables.”
Maybe Swartz would like it better with pesto pasta. A recipe from the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board suggests combining crisp asparagus pieces with bowtie pasta, chicken cubes, cherry tomatoes, red onion and olives, the tossing it with pesto sauce and Romano cheese.
Try it in Salads
Asparagus also fares well in salads. In a departure from the traditional pairing with citrus fruits, a salad from the Michigan growers combines asparagus with melon and crab meat. The Asian-style dressing calls for sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice and lime juice.
Asparagus makes a pretty centerpiece in wraps. Cover a flour tortilla with a cream-cheese spread, top with shredded vegetables, then roll up around an asparagus spear. Or mix seasonings into mayonnaise, spread on a tortilla, top with ham or roast beef and sliced cheese, then roll up around asparagus spears and red pepper slices.
Or keep it simple, as Pileggi recommends, by serving it as a side dish.
“I would try it topped with sun-dried tomatoes, some buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves,” Pileggi said. “Or maybe with toasted pine nuts and dried Craisins.”
Reach Repository Food Writer Saimi Bergmann at (330) 580-8493 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
PESTO CHICKEN PASTA
8 ounces uncooked farfalle (bow tie) pasta
2 cups cut-up asparagus
3 cups (12 ounces) cubed, cooked chicken
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1 (2.25-ounce) can sliced ripe olives, well drained
3/4 cup prepared pesto sauce
3 tablespoons freshly shredded or grated Romano cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions, drain. Steam asparagus until tender crisp, 2 minutes, drain. Combine cooked pasta and asparagus in large bowl. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, onion and olives. Gently toss with pesto sauce. Serve warm, garnished with cheese. Makes 6 servings.
From Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board
ASPARAGUS WITH ROASTED YELLOW BELL PEPPER SAUCE
2 large yellow bell peppers
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
Char peppers over gas flame or under broiler until blackened on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed and chop. Place peppers and 1/4 cup olive oil in blender and puree until smooth. Add lemon juice and blend again. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling water for up to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge into bowl of ice water to cool; drain. Toss asparagus with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with slat and pepper.
Arrange asparagus on platter and spoon some sauce over. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately.
From “Crowd Pleasers” from the Junior League of Canton
ASPARAGUS AND CRAB SALAD
2 cups cut-up fresh or frozen Michigan asparagus
12 ounces crab meat (fresh or canned) or imitation crab
1 (10-ounce) bag lettuce mix
1 cup 1/2-inch pieces cantaloupe
1 cup sliced seedless cucumber
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
For dressing, combine all ingredients; mix well. Set aside.
For salad, steam or microwave asparagus until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes). Drain and let cool. Cut crab into bite-size pieces. Combine asparagus and crab in a large bowl; add lettuce mix, cantaloupe and cucumber. Toss gently. Pour salad dressing over all. Toss to evenly coat. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Substitute 11/2 cups cubed, cooked chicken for the crab, if desired.
From Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board
ITALIAN BEEF WRAP
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 large (10-inch) flour tortilla
1 leaf romaine lettuce
2 thin slices mozzarella or provolone cheese
2 thin slices shaved roast beef
2 large pieces prepared roasted red pepper, drained
4 asparagus spears, blanched
Combine mayonnaise and Italian seasoning. Spread over tortilla, layer lettuce, cheese and roast beef. In center, place red pepper and asparagus. Roll up. Cut in half diagonally to serve. Yields one serving.