Asparagus has arrived

I’ve been waiting all spring for the arrival of Armstrong asparagus and it has arrived! Locally grown, fresh and delicious, what more could anyone ask of a vegetable?

One of my favourite childhood memories is walking the railway tracks in the early spring with my dad, searching for the wild asparagus that grew along the right-away. They were tall and skinny, delicious to munch on as we walked along. That experience led me to believe thin spears were the best, but it turns out to be a fallacy (for cultivated asparagus) because according to asparagus advisory boards, the larger the diameter of the spear, the better the quality.

It’s a remarkable vegetable, a nutrient-dense food is high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C and thiamin. Asparagus has no fat, contains no cholesterol, and is low in sodium. What more could we ask for in a good food?

Today’s first recipe is an easy chicken and asparagus sauté flavoured with Indian spices. You can buy these spices in small quantities at the bulk food store.

Our second recipe is for a wonderful pizza that was inspired by a wood-fired-oven pizza. Locally grown asparagus is available at the farmers’ market, local fruit stands and a few local grocery stores. Enjoy some this week.

Indian-Spiced Chicken & Asparagus

1-1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1-1/2 tsp. fennel seeds

1 lb. chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces

2 tbsp. canola oil, divided

3/4 tsp. salt, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small fresh chili, seeded and minced

1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger

1-1/2 bunches asparagus (about 1-1/2 lbs) trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Toast cumin and fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Finely grind in a spice grinder (such as a clean coffee grinder) or with a mortar and pestle. Toss chicken with 1-1/2 tsp. of the spice mixture and 1/4 tsp. salt in a bowl.

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining oil, onion, garlic, chili and ginger; cook, stirring, until softened about 2-3 minutes. Add asparagus, sprinkle with remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining salt and simmer for 2 minutes more. Return the chicken and any accumulated juice to the pan and cook until the chicken is just cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more.

Serve sprinkled with cilantro. Serve over brown rice, millet or quinoa. Delicious!

Bacon, Egg & Asparagus Pizza

1 lb. prepared pizza dough, preferably whole-wheat

2 strips bacon

3/4 cup sliced shallots

1 lb. asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces

4 large eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 500 F. Coat a large-rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with cooking spray. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to the size of the pan. Transfer to the pan and bake until crisp on the bottom, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp. Drain on a paper towel. Add shallots to the pan and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes more. Spread the vegetables over the crust and crumble the bacon on top.

Whisk eggs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until combined; slowly pour over the vegetables, trying not to let any run off the crust. Sprinkle the pizza with cheese. Bake until eggs are set and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with a mixed green salad, and lunch is served.

Cathi Litzenberger is food columnist at The Morning Star.