Asparagus tips for spring

Asparagus tips for spring – recipes

Jerry Anne Di Vecchio

In the produce department, the change of seasons is growing less and less evident. Thanks to farms in the tropics and south of the equator, where fall is our spring, many “seasonal” fruits and vegetables are available year-round. However, the price of asparagus clarifies the calendar. Rarely is it a better bargain – or the source more local – than in May. To take advantage of the consummate spring vegetable, I couldn’t resist giving it two settings this month.

Asparagus first won me over when I was a young thing, just into high heels. I was terribly impressed by a dish in vogue at the time called veal Oscar. Reputedly named for a Scandinavian king, the veal, topped with crab, asparagus, and a velvety butter sauce, had royal cachet.

Chef Bradley Ogden recently revived this forgotten pleasure at one of his annual crab festival dinners at Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, California. But he presented a different Oscar, this one with chicken. Here’s an adaptation that works well for a cook without a staff.

Chicken Oscar

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 25 minutes

NOTES: Up to 6 hours ahead, pound chicken; cover and chill. Cook asparagus, drain, chill at once in ice water, then drain again. Immerse in simmering water for 1 to 2 minutes to reheat.

MAKES: 4 servings

12 asparagus spears (equal size; about 1 lb. total)

4 boned, skinned chicken breast halves (about 1/4 lb. each)

3 to 4 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 pound shelled cooked crab

1/2 to 2/3 cup hollandaise sauce (recipe follows), hot, warm, or at room temperature

Chive spears or minced chives

1. Snap tough ends from asparagus and discard. Rinse asparagus and, if desired, peel stems with a vegetable peeler.

2. Rinse chicken, pat dry, and lay pieces 4 to 5 inches apart on a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover with more plastic wrap. Pound chicken with a flat mallet until it is 3/8 to 1/2 inch thick.

3. Put bread crumbs in a shallow pan. Turn chicken in crumbs to coat evenly, patting to make them stick.

4. Set an 11- to 12-inch oven-proof nonstick frying pan over high heat. When hot, add butter and swirl until melted. Add chicken and cook until browned on bottom, shaking pan to avoid scorching butter, about 2 minutes. Turn pieces over and cook 1 minute more.

5. Set pan in a 350 [degrees] oven and bake until chicken is no longer pink in center (cut to test), 7 to 9 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat, bring about 1 inch water to a boil. About 3 minutes before chicken is done, add asparagus to boiling water and cook just until tender when pierced; drain.

7. Quickly transfer each chicken breast half to a warm plate. Top with equal amounts of the crab and asparagus, and pour hollandaise sauce over each portion. Garnish with chives.

Per serving: 334 cal., 49% (162 cal.) from fat; 36 g protein; 18 g fat (9.8 g sat.); 7.2 g carbo (1.1 g fiber); 370 mg sodium; 173 mg chol.

* Layer asparagus and roasted vegetables on a crisp pastry for a colorful main-dish salad. Main Giraud describes it as a tart on his spring menu at Lavande in Santa Monica.

Lavande Spring Vegetable Tart

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 2 hours

MAKES: 4 Servings

6 Roma tomatoes (about 1/4 lb. each) 2 heads fennel (each 3 1/2 in. wide) 2 garlic cloves 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 artichokes (3 in. wide) 12 asparagus spears (equal size; about 1 lb. total) 4 frozen puff pastry shells (2/3 of a 10-oz. package), thawed 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar About 1/4 cup prepared tapenade (olive paste) Salad (recipe follows) Salt and fresh-ground pepper

1. Rinse tomatoes, core, and cut in half lengthwise. Trim off and discard fennel tops, root ends, and any bruised spots. Rinse heads and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Peel and chop garlic.

2. Rub 1 tablespoon olive oil over bottom of 10- by 15-inch pan. Sprinkle garlic over half the pan and set tomatoes, cut side down and close together, on garlic. Lay fennel slices in other side of pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil; mix gently with your hands to coat, then spread fennel evenly in half of pan.

3. Bake in a 350 [degrees] oven until tomatoes are shriveled and fennel is translucent, about 1 hour (about 50 minutes in a convection oven). Let cool.

4. Meanwhile, rinse artichokes, drain, and trim discolored ends from stems. Put artichokes in a 4- or 5-quart pan. Add about 3 inches water, cover pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until artichoke bottoms are tender when pierced, about 40 minutes.

5. Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus. Rinse spears. Lift artichokes from pan and let cool. Add asparagus to water and turn heat to high. Cook, uncovered, until spears are tender-crisp when pierced, about 3 minutes. Drain and immerse at once in ice water until cold, about 2 minutes; drain again.

6. On a lightly floured board, roll each puff pastry shell into a 6- to 7-inch-wide round. Set rounds side by side on a 12-by 15-inch baking sheet; set another pan of the same size on top of the pastries.

7. Bake pastries in a 350 [degrees] oven until well browned (lift top pan to check), 25 to 30 minutes (about 25 minutes in a convection oven).

8. As pastries bake, break leaves from artichokes and reserve for other uses. Scoop out and discard fuzzy centers from artichoke bottoms; also trim any coarse fibers from artichoke stems. Cut bottoms vertically into 1/8- to 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a bowl, mix with 1 tablespoon olive oil and vinegar.

9. Spread each warm pastry lightly with tapenade and set on a plate. Top each with 3 tomato halves and equal portions of fennel (don’t wash pan; set aside), artichoke bottoms, and asparagus.

10. Top vegetables with equal portions of green salad (including dressing). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Per serving: 595 cal., 62% (369 cal.) from fat; 13 g protein; 41 g fat (5.1 g sat.); 49 g carbo (9.3 g fiber); 792 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Salad. Rinse and crisp 4 cups (2 to 3 oz.) baby salad mix. In pan used to bake tomatoes and fennel, preceding, stir 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves, incorporating drippings in pan. Add salad mix and stir, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

STEP BY STEP

Give hollandaise a quick whirl

The secret of exquisitely smooth hollandaise sauce is forming a perfect emulsion. Egg yolks are naturally emulsified, and when melted butter is whipped or whiffed into them, the fat and liquid won’t separate if the eggs aren’t overcooked. The trick is to get the mixture to a bacteria-safe temperature without cooking the yolks enough to solidify them and make the sauce separate. If this happens, you can save it by putting 2 tablespoons of water in a blender or another bowl and whirling or whisking in the broken sauce.

Hollandaise Sauce

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 10 minutes

NOTES: To keep hollandaise sauce warm up to 2 hours, seal in a thermos. If making up to 4 days ahead, pour into a jar and chill airtight. To serve, let stand about 2 hours at room temperature, then whisk to soften.

MAKES: 2 Cups

3 large egg yolks 3/4 cup (3/8 lb.) butter or margarine 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1. Put yolks in a blender or food processor (a). Cut butter into chunks and put in a 1- to 2-quart pan over medium-high heat. Heat until melted and a little of the foam is beginning to brown (about 230 [degrees]), 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Turn on blender or food processor and pour 1/4 cup boiling water into yolks, then add lemon juice and mustard. At once, pour hot butter into yolks in a steady stream (b), taking about 10 seconds (sauce will be thin). Sauce should be 160 [degrees]. If it’s not, pour into a metal bowl (about 3 qt.) or round-bottomed pan and nest over slightly simmering water in another pan. Whisk (c) for 3 minutes.

3. Serve sauce hot or warm.

Per tablespoon: 45 cal., 98% (44 cal.) from fat; 0.3 g protein; 4.9 g fat (2.9 g sat.); 0.1 g carbo (0 g fiber); 57 mg sodium; 32 mg chol.

It’s about thyme – and parsley and sage …

Although McCormick & Company has been in the spice and herb business for more than 100 years, its newest product couldn’t be fresher: cut herbs sold in water-filled vessels to preserve their quality and extend their life. The herbs can be kept at room temperature (the water should be replaced when it gets murky). However, Sunset’s tests over the years have demonstrated that cut herbs in water – with the exception of basil – stay fresh even longer in the refrigerator, loosely covered with a plastic bag. McCormick’s selection of fresh herbs – basil, dill, Italian parsley, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, and sage – is available at major supermarket chains and natural-food stores. A bunch costs about $2; for more information, call (800) 632-5847.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sunset Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group