Spear Me, Oh Spear MeMay 01, 2021 01:51PM ● By Cornelius O'Donnell
I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate a seasonal vegetable, and my thought was to feature some unusual takes on what is possibly (after fennel) my favorite vegetable, asparagus. And then I thought: seasonal? These days you can walk into a good supermarket and find asparagus the year around. As I am—to put it mildly—mature, I remember my mom’s joy when the arrival of this vegetable caused the market to proclaim the presence of FRESH ASPARAGUS on swaths of butcher paper in their windows.
And I remember, too, Mom and Dad’s attempts to grow asparagus in our woefully small garden, which was shaded by a huge “cotton” poplar. In this same space, Dad tried to grow what he called his three-dollars-per-tomato plants. We knew when they turned a ripe red that frost was imminent. The large lawn was kept for the croquet set.
How to Cook This Vegetable
How do we love asparagus? Let me count the ways—or at least give you a few ideas.
As I ease my way through the produce section of the market this time of year, I impulsively grab a bunch of asparagus, although I have a feeling the fresh arrival in local farmers markets will be a bit tastier. Most often I cook the spears in a treasure from my working days, and that is the base for the CorningWare coffee pot. It’s tall and holds a fair amount of the vegetable. The spears obviously need a longer cooking time than the tender buds. You need to carefully rinse the spears to remove any lingering soil. Snap and discard the bottom part of the stalk at its natural break, then fit the veg in the tall cooking container. Many cooks trim off the little nibs on the spears as well.
I heat water in a kettle with a spout until simmering and pour it over the spears to come about three-quarters of the way up the spears. I place this over medium heat, snap on the cover, and leave it to steam for about 3 to 5 minutes or until the spears are tender. Carefully pour off the water and place the spears in a serving dish.
You can use the base of a double boiler as well. And if you don’t have a tallish container, one idea is to use a wide-ish skillet and wad up enough foil to make a “pillow” for the tips on one inner edge of the pan. Pour over the simmering water from the kettle so as to leave the tips out of the water. Cover and steam until tender. If this seems too fussy just cook the spear. If the spears are really thick, you can cut through the spears lengthwise leaving the tips intact, forming a tassel shape.
I must confess I often use the firm-tender steamed or roasted stalks as a dipper into melted butter laced with salt and pepper. Or, eat them dredged into any commercial dip or creamy salad dressing, or dabbled in just a dish of salt and pepper mixed together. Simple and delicious. But maybe you are in the mood for something more complex. Here goes.
Asparagus with Aigrelette Sauce
I found this recipe in a book called Pedaling Through Burgundy by Sarah Leah Chase. I’ve never heard of the vinaigrette, but the French love their asparagus and Sarah got the recipe from famous chef George Blanc. I tried it. Of course, you can use your favorite sauce but it’s so “springy” to try something new. Note the chef’s way of cooking the spears. Crisp tips be darned.
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup peanut oil
- 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
- 1⁄4 cup fruity olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. white Burgundy wine (I used dry vermouth)
- 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. chicken broth
- 1⁄2 cup assorted minced fresh herbs (any combination of tarragon, thyme, chives, dill, cilantro, basil)
- Sea or coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 pounds medium asparagus trimmed and bottom portion of stalks peeled
In a medium-size bowl whisk together the egg yolk, mustard, and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the peanut, vegetable, and olive oils to form a thickened emulsion. Whisk in the wine vinegar and broth. Season with the herbs, salt, and pepper. Refrigerate the sauce if not using within an hour but bring it to room temperature before using.
Place asparagus spears in a wide saucepan and add water just to cover. Bring the water to a boil and cook the asparagus, uncovered, until crisp tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well and immediately sauce with enough aigrelette to coat the spears lightly and evenly. (Save the remaining sauce for another time. It will keep covered and refrigerated 3 or 4 days.) Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Makes 4 to 6 servings. Happy Spring!