Seasonal Chef: Springtime Asparagus

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Hello, my name is Maria Reina.  In addition to occasionally blogging over the past three years for Small Bites I am a personal chef for three families in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, have a small catering business called Bella Cucina Maria, and teach cooking classes at Tarry Market. Last summer with a little extra time in my schedule I also started doing demos at our local Westchester Farmers Markets. I ended up having so much fun I made over 20 appearances from July through December!

For me it was uber-creative. I would arrive at the Market, walk around and see what was available, then take it back to my little portable stove and make something for the shoppers. In the food world, when you apprentice at a restaurant it’s called a stagista (sta’dzista), or a stage (sta’zshh) for short. My summer stage had me criss-crossing the county from Pelham to Katonah, and Purchase to Irvington. I continued through the Winter and now Spring at a few Indoor Markets in Rye Brook and Chappaqua.

Farmers Markets are, in two words: simply wonderful. The farmers are so passionate about what they do and what they produce. In my mind there is just nothing better than looking at a table full of vegetables and being inspired to create something. It could be as simple as a fresh crunchy salad with mixed greens, shaved radishes and a zippy vinaigrette; or as intricate as a stir fry using three or four vegetables, a protein (also found at markets) and a sauce. However you approach it though, you find super fresh and lovingly created items.

With that in mind, I am going to be coming to you each week here on Small Bites with a new market goody, giving you the 411 on it, and then a recipe or two to try out. As time goes by you will be able to find all my recipes on my new blog site.

So lets get started! It’s April and what better place to begin that with Asparagus?  Asparagus can be found year round, but in Spring it’s at its peak. You want to look for beautiful long stems that are grassy-green in color with tight purple tinged tips. You can also find asparagus in a white variety too. For those you want to look for a fresh creamy color and tight pinkish tips.

Asparagus is so good, and so good for you too. Filled with great nutrients like folic acid, potassium and B6; it’s low in sodium and has no fat or cholesterol. Aside from all that goodness, it can be prepared in hundreds of different ways: grilled, steamed, sautéed; and sound in soups, stews and even crudité platters.

If you were not planning to cook them right away, the best way to keep these beauties fresh from the market would be to trim about a half-inch from the bottom and set them upright in a shallow bowl or pan of water. They will keep in the ‘fridge for about 3 to 4 days.

This bunch I brought home were a little on the thicker side, so I decided to peel them. That can be accomplished easily using the right type of peeler. Because of their shape and size you want to use the kind I have pictured, known as a “Y” peeler, to make it very simple and quick.

One half I grilled and the other I made a yummy soup. To grill them all you need to do is toss with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss on to a hot grill. Once you see some nice char marks you are done. Drizzle with a little more oil, a sprinkle of seasoning and you are good to go. I even topped mine with a few grates of fresh parmigiano cheese. Very tasty!

For the other half of my bunch I decided to make a soup. Emerging from Winter I am always in the mood for lighter soups. I tend to make a lot of thick purees and stews, which are perfect for the cold season, but Spring calls to lighten things up! The following is my riff on the Vietnamese soup Sup Mang Cua.

Click this link to see my recipe for

Asparagus, Mushroom and Crab Soup
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 spring onion, cleaned, white bulb and green top separate
1” knob of fresh ginger, about the size of the top of your thumb
6 oz shiitake mushrooms
1 large garlic clove
1 quart of good chicken or vegetable stock
1 juicy lime
¾ lb fresh asparagus, stalks peeled if thick
7-8 oz lump crab meet, drained, checked for random shells and broken slightly
¼ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Kosher salt and white pepper
¼ – ½ teaspoon of Sambel Oelek, optional

Before you get started you want to get your vegetables prepped and organized. This soup will come together very quickly, so having everything ready and lined up on your cutting board is key!

  • Spring onion: keeping the root end together, cut in half then in thin slices. You should have about ½ cup. Take the green part and slice that thin, separately from the white part.
  • Shiitakes: remove the stem, leaving ¼ from the base, then slice in ¼ “ pieces.
  • Asparagus: cut the asparagus stalks in 1 inch angled pieces. Take the tops and slice in half, if thick, and set aside.
  • Peel and grate the ginger, thinly slice the garlic clove, and zest the lime, cut in half and juice in to a small cup.In a small heavy bottom stockpot heat the coconut oil. Take care to not bring the heat too high, as this type of oil has a slightly lower smoke point.  Sauté the onion, ginger, garlic, ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper until soft and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.Add the mushrooms, and another ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper and sauté until soft. Keep an eye on the vegetables, you don’t want the bottom to burn. When the mushrooms are soft and their liquid is slightly released, add the stock and bring to a boil.Toss in the lime zest, juice and asparagus stem pieces and lower the heat. Simmer for about 5 minutes.Add the crab, asparagus tops, ¼ cup green part of the onion, cilantro and chili paste (if using) and simmer for another few minutes to heat the crab and cook the asparagus tops.Taste for seasoning and serve.

     

    Cooking these beauties could not be simpler, either. After peeling them I set them in a pot of boiling water that was salted with a couple of pats of butter and a few slices of lemon. Let them simmer for about 8-10 minutes, depending on the thickness, and your taste.

     

    To finish I simply tossed them with a little extra virgin olive oil, a few grates of lemon zest, salt, pepper and a thinly sliced ramp (wild leek) I had in the ‘fridge. (We will talk more about ramps in a few weeks!)

    This coming Saturday you will find me at the Chappaqua Indoor Farmers Market from 10:00-Noon creating a yummy asparagus dish for the shoppers. If you are in the neighborhood please stop by. In addition, if you have any favorite vegetables you are interested in finding more about in my upcoming posts, please let me know.

    Buon Appetito!

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1 Comment

  1. Ni Maria,

    I am also a food blogger but I haven’t done any demonstrations yet. I would love to see one of yours. When will you be doing one again and where? Love your posts.

    Phyllis, aka sweetpaprika.wordpress.com

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