Asparagus, the versatile vegetable

Ontario asparagus and rhubarb are here – it must be spring! Yesterday was the first time I harvested rhubarb from my garden. Although it looked plentiful with the leaves, once they were removed, the meager stalks had to be supplemented with a bag of previously frozen rhubarb for a much-desired rhubarb crisp.

Now that asparagus is in the supermarkets, it is a regular on my shopping list. It is delicious served hot with a vinaigrette, cold in salads, dipped as an appetizer or sliced and used in stir fries, pasta sauces and quiches. You get the idea – there are countless ways to serve this elegant, versatile vegetable. Use this vinaigrette on asparagus but later in the season on beans, beets and carrots.

Asparagus with Orange Vinaigrette

Asparagus’ mild but unique flavour marries well with citrus flavours. This vinaigrette is a natural companion. The asparagus can be served with the vinaigrette drizzled over just- cooked- until- tender strands or if you prefer, stir 4 tablespoons of vinaigrette into 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream for a richer, thicker dip. Asparagus is the one vegetable which can be picked up by the fingers and eaten – a perfect appetizer course!

Choose asparagus with tightly closed purple tips, an indication of freshness. For tenderness, look for even, thicker rather than thin stalks and store up to three days in the refrigerator either wrapped in damp paper towels and over- wrapped in a plastic bag or with stems in a pot of water and covered with plastic wrap.

Rinse under cold running water to remove any sand. Hold the stalk with both hands and break off the end. The end will snap off where it is naturally tough leaving you the tender portion. However, you may have to discard 1/3 – 1/2 of your asparagus (discarded stalks may be used for making stock.) Take this into consideration when buying asparagus – 1 lb serves 2 large or 4 small portions.

Cook asparagus laying down in wide saucepan of boiling water to cover. Time carefully – 2-3 minutes usually produces tender-crisp results. Remember the asparagus continues to cook even while it is being drained. You do not want limp, soggy strands! Drain and serve immediately with vinaigrette for hot version or rinse under cold water; pat dry with tea towel and refrigerate until serving time. This may be done the day ahead. Just before serving, arrange on platter and drizzle dressing over asparagus or stir vinaigrette into sour cream and serve with dip.

Orange Vinaigrette

1/2 cup (125 mL) each, orange juice and vegetable oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) grated orange rind

1 tsp (5 ml) each, maple syrup and Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

Pinch, black pepper

In a food processor or blender, combine oil, orange juice, orange rind, maple syrup, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Combine until smooth and well blended. Pour into jar and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup (250 mL).

Rhubarb Crisp

An all- time favourite, this can be made with any number of different fruits, fresh or frozen depending on availability and preferences.

Feel free to make it with peaches and blueberries, apples and cranberries, rhubarb and strawberry or raspberries.

If using frozen fruit, rinse first under warm water to thaw slightly.

Serve crisp warm with yogurt sauce (recipe follows) or vanilla ice cream and you will be a star!

Topping:

1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted

1 cup (250 mL) each, all-purpose flour and quick oats (may substitute granola)

1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar loosely packed

1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon

Fruit filling:

5 – 6 cups (1.5 L) fruit in about 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks

3/4 cup (175 mL) granulated sugar (less if fruit is sweet)

1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Spray 8 cup (2 L) baking dish with baking spray, set aside. In an ovenproof dish melt butter, stir in flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. In baking dish, combine rhubarb (or other fruit) with sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit. Bake about 45 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 6 servings.

Yogurt Sauce:

2 cups (500 mL) plain yogurt

2 tbsp (25 mL) dark maple syrup

Line sieve with coffee filter or paper towel and place over a mixing bowl. Spoon in yogurt and let drain at least 1 hour. Remove firm yogurt; discard liquid. Stir maple syrup into yogurt and serve with crisp.

Makes 1 cup (250 mL).


Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer. janmainskitchen@yahoo.ca

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