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Thursday, 16 March 2017 12:48

Happiness is when asparagus springs up

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You can get fancy making an asparagus tart —?cut the stalks to the same length, then arrange in a circle with the tips to the inside as shown here. You can get fancy making an asparagus tart —?cut the stalks to the same length, then arrange in a circle with the tips to the inside as shown here. File photo

I love asparagus, don’t you? For one thing it is the very first thing that comes up in the garden, so that always makes me feel good. While it is just a bit early for homegrown, you can find some good asparagus in the grocery stores right now. A pound will cost around $2.50 and is enough to serve two confirmed asparaholics.

For those of us lucky enough to have their own patch of asparagus, there is one simple piece of advice that is better than any recipe — eat it as soon as you pick it! The same is true if you buy it in the store because it will get tough if you let it sit in the refrigerator too long.

If you’ve never steamed anything before and don’t have a steamer or a special unit — don’t worry about it. Here’s a simple way to do it. Put about an inch of water in a pot with a lid. Take an aluminum pie or round cake pan (the disposable kind) and punch a bunch of holes in it. Lay the pan upside down over the water. Place your trimmed asparagus spears on top of that, put the lid on and cook on high for about five minutes. You’ll need to check occasionally to make sure you don’t run out of water.

Any tall, thin aluminum can be repurposed as a steamer. Make sure you remove any paper or plastic labels, give it a good washing and be careful moving it off the oven burner — the entire can will be hot. You may need to tie the asparagus bunch together so it will stand upright — use cotton string.

The thinner your layer of vegetables, the quicker they will cook.

When buying asparagus, look for spears that are straight, a uniform green color — not beige, brown or even olive green — and nice compact tips. When the asparagus goes too long the points start opening up and it will not be as tender. Thin or thick depends more on the plant variety than age.

You do not need to peel asparagus unless you have very old stalks and then it is not worth eating anyway. Trim the tougher ends off — usually this is the bottom two inches or so. Bend the stalk and where it snaps, that’s where you trim it.

So, now for some simple recipes — because that really is the best way to enjoy a truly delicious food.

Baked asparagus tart

— Serves four as a main course, six to eight as a side dish

?

9-inch tart or pie pan

1 pie crust, prepared, uncooked

1 lb. asparagus, trimmed

1/2 cup chopped scallions or onions

2 Tbsps. butter

1 cup half-and-half

3 large eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese

2 Tbsps. Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsps. chopped chives

Lay the pie crust in tart or pie pan. Flute the edges if you are using a pie pan, trim them level with the top if using a tart pan.?

Clean asparagus and cut into 1-inch pieces. Melt the butter in a large frypan. Add the asparagus and chopped scallions and saute until just tender.?

In a mixing bowl, whisk together half-and-half, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the asparagus/scallions and Swiss cheese. Pour this mixture in pie shell. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and chives on top.

Bake in preheated 350 F oven about 30 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Asparagus with pasta

2 cups fresh asparagus, cut into 1- inch pieces or cut into uniform lengths as in photo

6 oz. raw bow tie pasta

1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, sliced very thin

1/4 cup fresh, chopped chives

1 carrot, shredded

1/2 cup prepared dressing

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Pour in the pasta and cook until almost just done. Add the cut asparagus pieces to the pasta and cook for just two or three minutes more. The asparagus should be bright green and still al dente. Drain and rinse under cool water. Let drain well.

Combine the drained pasta and asparagus with remaining ingredients and toss with the salad dressing. Refrigerate for at least two hours to let flavors meld before serving.

For an easy dressing, mix together six tablespoons bottled or prepared oil and vinegar dressing, one tablespoon honey and one tablespoon cranberry juice, unreconstituted.

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