FOOD: What to do with the bounty of Asparagus?
May 11, 2012
Falls Church Times
One of the heralds of warmer weather is the regal asparagus. This year with the warm weather early we have had a bounty of spring fruit to include lots of asparagus along with strawberries and early tomatoes. Last weekend both my husband and I were so thrilled with the offerings of asparagus that we both loaded up on it. Thus we ended up with 6 bunches of asparagus and we had to come up with a variety of ways to prepare and serve it.
Asparagus is only available in our area for a few weeks in the spring and there is nothing better than those tender stems with slightly purple tips. Asparagus is a highly productive plant highly suited for cooler climates and provides a great source of Vitamins A and C and the leading vegetable supplier of folic acid. An established asparagus plant can produce spears for 15-25 years without replanting. The asparagus crowns are planted and are only harvested after they have been establish for 3-5 years. After a few weeks, the asparagus is allowed to grow to its full height and resembles a small Christmas tree with red berries. The large growth allows for the root crown to build up its energy stores for another year. Asparagus grows wild and many used to harvest it in the open fields.
There is the standard preparation of steamed asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, but we found that grilling the asparagus spears provided an intense accentuation to the majestic vegetable and we were nibbling on the spears before they made it to the table. After breaking the tough ends off of the stalk, we tossed the spears in canola oil, salt and pepper. Then we placed them directly on the grilled perpendicular to the grill slots so we wouldn’t lose them into the grill. It took about 5-8 minutes before the asparagus spears were slightly crispy and ready to eat. We also used another method of creating asparagus “rafts”. You take 5 asparagus spears, line them up together and spear the stalks with two bamboo skewers – one at the top and one at the bottom of the stalk. This allows you to hold grill the asparagus without losing them into the grill.
A few years ago at a Farmers Market Chef demonstration, Willow Restaurant demonstrated making an asparagus bisque as another way to truly enjoy the vibrant colors, aromas and taste of this herald of spring. Many at the demonstration asked if variations could be made to accommodate different diets. Vegetable broth could be substituted for chicken broth and it would be helpful if a little extra butter was added to the recipe to add in the necessary fat. Chervil is added to the recipe to ensure the bright green color to the bisque, but if it is not available, you could double the order of parsley. Many asked about substituting the cream with evaporated milk, which is of course perfectly fine. For those who don’t use dairy products, you may use creamed or mashed potatoes to add in the creamy base.
Spring Asparagus Bisque from Willow Restaurant
Yield: 6 Servings
2 bunches Local Spring Asparagus
2 quarts Chicken Stock (Canned Low Sodium Chicken Broth may be used)
16 ounces Heavy Cream
4 ounces Crème Fraiche
4 ounces Smoked Ham, cut into large chunks
1 Leek, white part only
6 pieces Thyme Sprigs, tied in a bunch
3 bunches Fresh Chervil
1 bunch Fresh Parsley
6 ounces Shredded Smoked Salmon, Max & Me Brand (the best!)
to taste Kosher Salt
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bring 8 quarts of water and 1/4 cup salt to a rolling boil. Trim 3 inches off the top of the asparagus and reserve tips.
All the asparagus should be pre-blanched in the same manner: Add asparagus to boiling water in small batches, cooking the stems and tips separately. Once the asparagus is tender, place in a large container of ice water until cool so as to stop the cooking process.
Blanch the chervil and parsley in boiling water for 30 seconds and cool in ice water.
Drain asparagus tips, herbs and asparagus stems separately.
In a blender, puree the asparagus stems, chervil & parsley with just enough ice water (2 Tbsp) to ensure the items are thoroughly blended to a smooth texture. To make the base, start by heating an 8 quart stock pot over medium-high heat, add 1 ounce Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the ham & the leek. Cook over medium heat until everything is soft, trying not to add too much color. Once tender, add the chicken stock and thyme bouquet. Bring the stock to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Gently reduce the liquid by half.
Once reduced, add the heavy cream and continue simmering for an additional 10 minutes. Allow the soup to cool at room temperature for 1 hour, after which pass through a fine sieve strainer. Discard the vegetables.
Just before you plan to serve the soup, return the base to the heat and slowly bring to a simmer. First, whisk in the crème fraiche and then the asparagus puree, ensuring the soup has returned to a simmer before adding the asparagus. Taste and adjust the seasoning with Kosher salt. Serve immediately and garnish the bowls with smoked salmon, asparagus tips and chopped chives.
By Kathleen Nixon
May 11, 2012