Asparagus season is here

Sherrel Jones shares asparagus cooking techniques and some recipes for sauces to serve with it.
BY SHERREL JONES Published: April 11, 2012
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Asparagus is peeping through the soil, and I can't wait to pick a few spears then take them straight into the house for dinner. Quickly blanched until bright green and still crisp but tender, then cooled just enough to stop the cooking, describes my favorite way to enjoy garden-fresh asparagus.

With the expanded array of spring vegetables in local markets, you may even find purple and white asparagus in some specialty grocers. The purple seems just a bit sweeter or more mild. White asparagus is without the chlorophyl that makes the spears green. It is created by adding more dirt over the roots and harvesting it before the tops emerge into the sunshine.

There are several kinds available, including some Oklahoma-grown varieties in your local farmers markets.

When choosing asparagus, look for plump, tight heads that haven't opened. Some cooks prefer tiny, pencil-thin spears, but I find the larger ones stay fresh longer and offer more flavor.

Get the spears out of any plastic bags as soon as possible. Make fresh cuts across the bottom of the spears and keep them refrigerated standing upright in a container holding about an inch or two of water.

Fresh asparagus has plenty of fast and easy cooking appeal.

You can steam it, saute it, micro-cook it, grill it or roast it and probably prepare it using a few other techniques or combinations I failed to mention.

Asparagus has a lovely affinity with eggs and lemon.

Drizzled with freshly made hollandaise sauce (the blender version), these luscious green spears of springtime burst with appealing flavor. Asparagus doesn't need butter or a fancy sauce to keep you wanting more when it is garden fresh.

I find it quickest to simply blanch spears in a boiling water bath on top of the stove for 2 or 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. The spears should be bright green; purple ones change to a greenish color. (The white ones cook white.) Test for doneness by biting into the spear. When they are tender crisp, quickly transfer them into an ice-water bath for 30 seconds or so to stop the cooking.

There will be some residual heat left to keep the spears warm if you wish to serve them right away. You may prefer to cook them longer. The spears also can be transferred from the hot water right to the serving dish. A few slices of butter will melt over the top or you can enjoy them with your favorite sauce.

Asparagus is wonderful in quiche, salads, a frittata or omelet. If you just need a single serving, place 4 or 5 spears inside a wet paper towel and microwave on high for 45 to 60 seconds. It comes out perfect.

When I get great fresh asparagus, I blanch up a lot of it and use it over several days to top salads and incorporate into scrambled eggs and other dishes or pop it into the freezer to make soups and other dishes.

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