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An Asparagus Trinity

Eating asparagus is one of the sacred rites of spring. This holy vegetable deserves ritualistic consumption, ideally as often as possible while in season and thus at its most divine. We offer three vestment changes; each incarnation can be served as a side dish, a starter, or even a light main course. Though asparagus is often served warm, it is equally heavenly served chilled or at room temperature when adorned with fresh herbs and creative sauces.

Cooking the Asparagus

- For Poaching Asparagus

Prepare 1-2 bunches of asparagus:

Trim the ends and any woody purple part. Peel the tough outer skin as close to tip as desired. Poach in 1½ inches of water (just enough to barely cover asparagus) with 1 tablespoon of sea salt.

- For Grilling Asparagus

Prepare 1-2 bunches of asparagus:

Trim the ends and any wood purple part. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, if desired. Turn asparagus over and repeat. Grill over a medium heat with lid open, positioning the asparagus horizontally or diagonally across the grill so that the stalk is exposed to the hottest part of the grill and the tips to the coolest.

RECIPES

Grilled Asparagus with Roasted Tomato Aji Panca Sauce

The Roma tomatoes do not have to be perfect specimens of ripe redness for this sauce. The roasting process will bring out the tomatoes’ natural sugar and compliment the smoky flavor of the Aji Panca paste, a mild and fruity Peruvian chili. Toasted pumpkin seeds, which are available in either bulk or snack packets in most grocery stores, especially natural food stores, lend this sauce an essential nuttiness. The beauty of this sauce is that it is extremely utilitarian and leftovers (which there will almost certainly be) can also be used on seafood, poultry, eggs or meats to great result.

INGREDIENTS

6 Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons Aji Panca chili paste (such as Costa Peruana brand)

1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

2 small or 1 large garlic clove

olive oil for brushing

chopped cilantro for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Cut tomatoes in half and place on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil on both sides and roast in a 450°F oven for 50 mins. Transfer tomatoes to a blender or food processor. If using a blender with small blades, squish the tomatoes in a bowl with your hand to release the juice before transferring contents to the blender. Add chili paste, pumpkin seeds, salt, pepper, and garlic to the tomatoes. Blend or process on high until smooth. Adjust seasoning if necessary. If making in advance, reheat the sauce briefly on the stove or in the microwave until warm but not hot.

Serve over, or on the side, of warm asparagus. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Poached or Grilled Asparagus with Bacon and Shallot Vinaigrette

This is a bold, deeply flavorful and quite filling preparation of asparagus. The smoked paprika marries the meaty bacon with the acidic vinegar without overpowering the asparagus. As a light lunch, preceding bread and cheese, or served alongside a bowl of soup, this makes for a satisfying and savory meal.

INGREDIENTS

4-8 strips of bacon, preferably uncured

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup sherry vinegar

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

DIRECTIONS

Prepare Bacon

Crisp 4-8 strips of bacon in a 400 degree oven or a large stainless pan. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and blot to remove excess grease. Cut strips or snip with scissors into bite-sized pieces. Cover and keep warm. (Bacon can also be reheated in the microwave for 10 seconds; any longer and it will get chewy.)

Prepare Dressing

Coarsely mince shallots and place in small bowl. Add extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, sea salt, freshly ground pepper (if desired). Whisk until thickened.

Assemble

Lay warm or room temperature asparagus on a platter. Using a teaspoon and scraping from the bottom to get shallots, drizzle dressing a little at a time over asparagus. Sprinkle bacon over center of asparagus. Using a small fine sieve, dust the asparagus with smoked paprika. Serve immediately.

Poached Asparagus with Tarragon Sunflower Aioli

Though this recipe may not sound like a departure from the most common of asparagus preparations, it is anything but humdrum. Sunflower oil yields a luscious, slightly nutty and unique mayonnaise. One can really use any fine fresh herb here, but tarragon meshes particularly well with asparagus’ grassy flavor. Try to find large or jumbo asparagus for this recipe so they don’t get lost in the aioli. As the sauce works equally well with chilled asparagus and the aioli can be served chilled as well, this recipe is highly suitable for advance preparation.

Special Equipment: hand blender with cup

INGREDIENTS

1 cup sunflower oil

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon water

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 small garlic clove

1 tablespoon tarragon leaves

DIRECTIONS

Add sunflower oil, egg yolk, and water to the hand blender cup. Wait 3-5 minutes for the oil and water to separate and settle. Plunge the hand blender to the bottom of the cup and blend on high until an emulsion forms, then tip the blender to suction down all the oil until fully incorporated. Add salt, garlic, and tarragon and blend again until smooth. Place warm, room temperature, or chilled asparagus on a platter with half a lemon and serve aioli in a side dish.

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