Asparagus is in season now, even though it's pretty much available all year long, especially the green variety. But the best time to eat asparagus is between late February and June. You'll see it once the farmers' markets kick off, as it's one of the first spring vegetables to arrive.
There are different varieties and sizes of asparagus you should know about. Most people are familiar with green asparagus, but there is also white asparagus which is actually preferred throughout Europe. These sunlight-deprived stalks are milder, delicate and require peeling before cooking. There is also the violet and purple kind found in the UK and Italy. Wild asparagus also grows in some areas, here in the U.S. even the Midwest and throughout Europe. It's fun to go on an asparagus hunt!
Asparagus is nutritional and low calorie for the dieting crowd. It is a good source of antioxidants and vitamin K. If you did not know, it takes actually three years from planting the seed to see the first stalks. They will shoot from the crown and are strictly harvested by hand.
There are several cooking methods for this delicious vegetable. I want to note a few here and focus more on the white asparagus. If you never had it, or even heard of it, or just did not know how to prepare it, I'll give you tips for experimenting with it.
Green asparagus can be grilled, sauteed and steamed. Asparagus is a great addition to a risotto. I prefer it sauteed in a pan with olive oil and added as a finishing touch to a risotto with Parmesan cheese. You can also cut off the the tips of the asparagus and use it as a garnish for the risotto, which makes it look really pretty!
White asparagus is a little different when it comes to methods of cooking since it's delicate and milder in flavor. First, you need to peel this asparagus before cooking it. The easiest way to peel it is by holding the asparagus stalk from the tip, laying it on your arm and peeling it gently. This is important so that you don’t break them.
Once the asparagus is peeled, prepare a pot with boiling water, adding salt and fresh lemons cut into wedges wedges or wheels. Once the water is boiling, add the asparagus to the boiling water and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes until the stems are soft. You need to be sure the stems are soft before you serve them. If you are cooking a larger batch you can bundle them with butcher twine so that it's easier to get them out of the pot. There is also an asparagus pot available, with an insert, similar to a pasta pot to make it even easier.
White asparagus can be simply cooked and drizzled with olive oil and topped with your favorite cheese. It goes great with steak, fish or with a Hollandaise sauce. You may have heard that Hollandaise is a complicated sauce to make, but The Chopping Block's method can't be beat. There's no whisking in clarified butter over a double boiler. The gentle heating of the eggs and butter together in conjunction with continuous whisking brings this silky, luxurious emulsified sauce together.
Easier-Than-Ever Hollandaise Sauce
Yield: 1 cup
Active time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 15 minutes
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 stick butter, cut into 1 tablespoon-size pieces
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
- Place the yolks, water, lemon juice and butter in a slope-sided saucier pan.
- Place over medium-low heat and whisk until the butter melts. Continue to whisk until the sauce becomes thick and is steaming, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm.
Make it a fun spring asparagus season by learning how to work with it in our upcoming Italian Surf and Turf class on Friday, April 19 at the Mart.