There are many emblems of spring: crocus, daffodils, Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs. But for foodies all over town the true first sign of spring is the asparagus.
These slender green stalks have an unfortunately brief growing season hereabouts, so we need to make the best of it. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you the whole subject of asparagus is a little more complex than many people think.
Being the only perennial vegetable we plant in the US, asparagus makes for a perfect addition to any garden plot. It may take a little extra preparation time the first year it goes in the ground, but it will produce asparagus for twenty to thirty years after that with little maintenance!
Here are two great videos on how to prepare your asparagus bed and plant you crop:
In terms of what varieties to plant, there’s always the great heirloom ‘Martha Washington’ but I’m more partial to the hybrids ‘Jersey Giant’ and ‘UC157.’ Check out how to get them here.
And once you’ve started your harvest try out these recipes:
2 cups of fresh asparagus cut into ½ inch pieces
6 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1⁄3 cup dry white wine
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a boiling pot of water, blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes, chill in an ice bath and drain. Heat chicken stock in a small saucepan over medium heat; set aside and keep warm. Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; add onions and garlic to saucepan.
- Cook, stirring, until soft, 3 minutes. Add rice; cook until opaque, 3–4 minutes. Add wine; cook until absorbed, 1–2 minutes.
- Add reserved stock 1⁄2 cup at a time, cooking until each addition is absorbed before adding next amount.
- Cook, stirring often, until liquid has all been used and rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Add parmesan and cook, stirring, until liquid is creamy, about 3 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the asparagus.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Pickled Asparagus – it is worth seeking out the Ball 1.5 pint canning jars for asparagus. They allow you to leave the asparagus long but not can large numbers of them!
About 5 pounds asparagus, thin to medium-thick
2 ¼ cups white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons salt
6 garlic cloves, slivered
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 bay leaf (preferably fresh but dry will work) per jar
¼ teaspoon coriander seed
- Cut bottoms off asparagus to make them fit upright in a 1.5 pint jar. Asparagus tips should be at least ½ inch below lid. (Reserve bottoms for another use.)
- Pour about 2 inches water into a skillet large enough to hold asparagus lying down; bring to a boil. In batches, blanch asparagus: place in skillet, bring water back to a boil, and then immediately remove and run under very cold water or dunk in ice water. Set aside to drain. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan with 2 ¼ cups water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally and cook just until salt dissolves; turn off heat. Prepare 4 clean, hot 1.5 pint jars and bands, and new lids. (Dip in boiling water or run through dishwasher.)
- When jars are dry but still hot, pack asparagus into them, wedging spears in tightly. There should be enough for 3 or 4 full jars: do not half-fill jars. Pour in vinegar solution, just to barely cover tips of asparagus. Make sure to leave ½ inch air space above vinegar solution. Distribute garlic slivers and spices evenly among jars. Wipe rims with a clean paper towel dipped in hot water, place lids on top and screw on bands. (Not too tight, just firmly closed.)
- Prepare a boiling-water bath in a deep pot with a rack. Place jars on rack and pour water over them, making sure water covers jars by 2 to 3 inches. Bring water back to a rolling boil over high heat, start a timer for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and gently boil.
- When timer goes off, turn off heat and wait 5 minutes before removing jars with jar lifter or tongs. Let cool on counter, untouched, 4 to 6 hours. After 12 to 24 hours, check seals: lift each jar up by the lid and press the lid to make sure the center is sucked down tightly.
- Store in a cool, dark, dry place (not refrigerator) for 4 weeks before using, or up to 1 year.
- Refrigerate after opening. To serve, drain off pickling liquid and arrange asparagus on plates.
Asparagus, Poached Egg and Hollandaise
For the Hollandaise
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
- Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless-steel bowl and until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume.
- Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler,) the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat, whisk in cayenne and salt.
- Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use for the eggs benedict. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.