Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Asparagus season has arrived

It's May at last and that means fresh, local asparagus has arrived in Armstrong: healthy, tasty and easy to prepare.

One of the most welcoming signs of spring is when Armstrong asparagus appears at farmers’ markets and other outlets in our area, and it’s that time again.

There is nothing like fresh asparagus! Besides being delicious, it’s  low in calories (just 20 calories per serving of eight medium spears), fat and cholesterol free, an excellent source of folacin A, a good source of protein, a significant source of thiamin and vitamin B6.

The secret to enjoying asparagus is not to over cook it. Personally I like it grilled or steamed the best, but it can be boiled, steamed, baked, stir-fried, pickled and added or made into countless casseroles, soups and salads. Whole spears need only about five to eight minutes of cooking until tender-crisp. To me, asparagus is overcooked once it loses the bright green colouration. As a child I really enjoyed asparagus smothered in a cheese sauce; probably the only way over-cooked asparagus is palatable? Try it raw; just plunge it into boiling water for 30 seconds to bring out the colour and flavour, add a dip and you’ll have a wonderful appetizer.

Today’s recipes include a lovely salad and  a stir-fry side dish. Enjoy.

Asparagus and Mixed Greens Salad

1 cup pecan pieces

1 bunch asparagus, (1 lb/450 g), trimmed

2 tsp. olive oil

1 pinch salt

1 pinch pepper

4 cups torn frisée lettuce

4 cups baby arugula leaves

4 cups trimmed watercress

1 head Boston lettuce, torn

Lemon Fennel Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp. minced shallot

3 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. liquid honey

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

On baking sheet, bake pecans in 350 F oven until lightly toasted, about eight minutes. Let cool. (Make-ahead: Store in airtight container up to 5 days.)

Lemon Fennel Vinaigrette: Meanwhile, in small bowl, whisk together oil, shallot, lemon juice, honey, mustard, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Set aside. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 3 days.)

Toss asparagus with oil, salt and pepper. Bake on rimmed baking sheet in 350°F (180°C) oven until tender-crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool; cover and refrigerate. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 24 hours.)

Arrange asparagus on salad plates. In large bowl, toss together pecans, frisée, arugula, watercress, Boston lettuce and vinaigrette. Divide over asparagus. Serve immediately.

Stir-fried Asparagus with Ginger and Cashews

1-1/2 lb. asparagus, cleaned, cut into 1-1/2” pieces

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tsp. sesame oil

1 tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1/2 cup cashews, chopped

Heat the oils together in a wok or fry pan. Cook the ginger for 1 minute, stirring often. Add the asparagus and cook for 4 minutes, until barely tender and still bright green. Stir in soy sauce and cashews and continue cooking for 2 more minutes to heat through.

Makes 6 servings.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.