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by Louise Fiszer & Jeannette Ferrary

In the spring asparagus festivals are held everywhere from Limburg, Holland to Stockton, California. Calling itself the Asparagus Capital of the World, Stockton hosts an annual two-day festival in April. California produces more than 70% of this country's 200,000 pounds of fresh asparagus in the San Joaquin/Sacramento delta area.

Thin or thick, white or green or lavender, warm or cold or hot, asparagus generates much discussion. When it comes to cooking it, the world experts vigorously disagree: James Beard advised "Place asparagus in a skillet. Pour in enough cold water to cover and add salt. Bring to a boil." Andre Simon countered: "Never put asparagus in cold water and bring water to a boil." Recipes range from the advice of Richard Olney who insists that asparagus needs no saucing whatsoever, to an early Fanny Farmer asparagus salad sauced with catsup, to Escoffier's hard to believe Asparagus Ice Cream.

In the face of all these countervailing recommendations, we dare to add our own bit of asparagus advice: whenever possible eat it with your fingers.



Consumer and Cooking Guide

Market Selection
Green asparagus is the most common variety, with the costly, imported white and the newly-developed red varieties making occasional appearances on the produce scene. All types should have firm, unblemished stalks with tightly closed tips. Stalk thickness is a matter of reference. (Thin stalks have a grassier, young taste and the thick a bit more succulent.)

March through June, although imported asparagus may be found all year round.

Refrigerate, upright, in a container of water. If space is a problem, wrap bottom of stalks in a damp paper towel and seal in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to four days.

1 pound=about 15 stalks
1 pound, trimmed and peeled=3 cups
1/2 pound=1 serving

Nutritional Value
Vitamin A and C
35 calories per cup

Cooking Note
Asparagus stalks have an outer fibrous membrane that should be removed with a vegetable peeler before cooking. Snap off tough ends of stalks before cooking.

Basic Cooking Methods
Cook in salted boiling water for three to four minutes.
Steam for five to six minutes.

Asparagus Spears with Red Pepper Dipping Sauce
serves about 8 as an hors d'oeuvre

3 pounds asparagus spears, cooked just until tender and cooled

Red Pepper Sauce:
1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
salt and pepper

Arrange asparagus on serving platter. Puree sauce ingredients in food processor or blender and pour into small bowl. Set beside asparagus for dipping.

Warm Asparagus and Parmesan Salad
serves 6

2 pounds asparagus, peeled and cut into one-inch pieces
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
4 ounces parmesan cheese in one piece
4 cups mixed greens

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook three minutes from the time water returns to a boil. Drain briefly under cold water. They should still be warm.
Toss asparagus with lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper to taste. With a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices of parmesan on top. Make a bed of greens on serving plate and mound asparagus on top. Serve immediately.

Penne with Asparagus and Prosciutto
serves 4

3 tablespoons oil or butter
1/4 pound prosciutto, diced or chopped
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces, cooked just until tender
salt and pepper
1 pound freshly cooked penne pasta
1/4 cup chives
3 ounces grated Fontina cheese

Heat oil in large skillet. Cook prosciutto and leek about six minutes. Stir in wine and chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook until slightly thickened. Add cream, bring to a boil and add asparagus. Cook another minute. Taste for salt and pepper and toss with penne. Sprinkle with chives and Fontina and serve.

Grilled Salmon with Asparagus Pur�e
serves 6

2 pounds asparagus, peeled and cooked until very tender
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mild prepared mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper

6 cooked asparagus tips for garnish

6 salmon steaks
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the grill.
Combine the purre ingredients in a blender until very smooth.

Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil. Grill about four minutes per side.

To serve: Ladle about half the purre on each plate and place a cooked salmon steak over it. Ladle remaining purre over steaks and garnish with asparagus spear.


Jeannette & Louise are Bay Area freelance food writers and the authors of several books including Sweet Onions & Sour Cherries and A Good Day for Soup.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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