Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Okanagan asparagus has taken root

Cathi Litzenberger offers a wide variety of methods for enjoying the fresh asparagus of the season

  • May. 19, 2013 7:00 p.m.

About three years ago, I found several packages of asparagus roots for sale at season’s end and decided I would grow asparagus here at home.

I did my research and set about building a garden for the stuff and planted it that fall. The first spring a fair number of thin spears popped up. I was delighted. Asparagus should be left to go to seed for the first three years to build the root system, and so this will be the first year I get to eat any.

So what happened? Thus far my asparagus bed has only produced two spears which I ate on the spot, and in the last week or so not a single green spear has broken ground. So where are the rest? Sigh. I’m heading out to get Armstrong asparagus as it’s now available; it’s local, delicious and reliable.

Asparagus with Garlic Butter

and Parmesan Cheese

2 bunches asparagus, trimmed of woody ends (thick spears)

125 g butter (no substitute)

4 garlic cloves, crushed

Salt and pepper

40 g parmesan cheese, finely grated

Bring a pan of water to the boil, drop the asparagus in and cook for about 2 minutes or until just tender-crisp. Plunge into iced water to stop them cooking, then drain.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, then add the asparagus to the pan, tossing and turning gently in the butter until hot. Divide among 4 plates, then sprinkle each serving with the cheese. You might like crusty bread to mop up the rest of the garlic butter!

Roasted Asparagus with

Balsamic Browned Butter

(healthy and low-calorie)

40 asparagus spears, trimmed (about 2 pounds)

Cooking spray

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Cracked black pepper (optional)

Crated lemon rind (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange asparagus in single layer on baking sheet; coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for 12 minutes or until tender-crisp.

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat; cook 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over asparagus, tossing well to coat. Garnish with cracked pepper and rind, if desired.

Baked Asparagus & Cheese Frittata

2 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs

1 pound thin asparagus

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 onions, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 large eggs

2 large egg whites

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 325 F. Coat a 10-inch pie pan or ceramic quiche dish with cooking spray. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, tapping out the excess.  Snap tough ends off asparagus. Slice off the top 2 inches of the tips and reserve. Cut the stalks into 1/2-inch-long slices.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell pepper, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add water and the asparagus stalks to the skillet. Cook, stirring, until the asparagus is tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 7 minutes (the mixture should be very dry). Add the sun dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables in even layer in prepared pan.

Whisk eggs and egg whites in a large bowl. Add ricotta, parsley, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper; whisk to blend. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, gently shaking the pan to distribute. Scatter the reserved asparagus tips over the top and sprinkle with Gruyère.

Bake the frittata until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Penne with Asparagus & Cherry Tomatoes

8 ounces penne pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1-1/2 pounds thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups (about 9 ounces) cherry tomatoes

1 cup shelled fresh peas

1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1 cup grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus, season with the salt and pepper, and cook for 3 minutes until slightly soft. Add the cherry tomatoes and peas. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour the chicken stock into the pan and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook until the tomatoes start to burst and the stock is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the asparagus mixture to a large serving bowl. Add the cooked pasta and 1/2 of the Parmesan. Toss well, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Garnish with remaining Parmesan and chopped basil.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and one Sunday per month.