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LEAN, GREEN AND DEFINITELY MEAN…
We are of course, referring to the asparagus price wars between the produce departments at all our Carmel Valley San Diego produce purveyors that begin about this time of the year and last for a couple months.
That bright green, crunchy, and oddly flavored but delicious skinny stalk that we buy -usually in groups of fifteen to forty depending on the thickness and held together by two rubber bands – is what we’re talking about.
Have you noticed the terrific warm weather we’ve been having in San Diego? Spring doesn’t officially begin until March 21, however you can expect the price of asparagus to drop drastically, as it usually does in the Spring. At the Carmel Valley Kitchen, we love asparagus, but not at $4.99 a pound like it’s priced for most of the year.
You can buy it today for 99 cents to $1.99 per pound at just about anywhere but Whole Foods. That’s almost a fifty to eighty percent discount from the prices we’ve been seeing, and we can expect to see this for the next two to three months.
Most of our asparagus available during the winter months comes from other countries, especially Mexico. In California, the plant is a perennial crop usually harvested once a year and over an 8-10 week period in the Spring. The more quantity there is, the cheaper it is, and now it’s being harvested in California which also contributes to the lower prices.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family, and under ideal conditions, a spear can grow up to ten inches in a twenty four hour period. A well cared for asparagus planting will produce for up to fifteen years without being replanted. And about stalk thickness…the larger the diameter the better the quality; that skinny pencil thin variety isn’t the best after all.
Nutritionally speaking, asparagus is a nutrient-dense food high in folic acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C and thiamin. Asparagus contains no fat, has no cholesterol and is low in sodium.
Cooking asparagus should be done prudently as it cooks quickly. Boiled in water or steamed in a covered dish with a couple cups of water, asparagus will be done in about five minutes max and will serve up to four people. We like ours al dente. It can also be roasted in the oven and grilled. If it’s over cooked, it will become a dull green color and be mushy.
It’s always a good idea to cut off the woody ends of the spears about 2 inches from the bottom prior to cooking and if the stalks are very thick use a vegetable peeler to trim them from the middle to the bottom.
Here are a few recipes you might want to try… very easy, very delicious and very simple.
GRILLED ASPARAGUS QUESADILLAS
Heat the BBQ to medium high.
Cut the woody ends off the spears about 3 inches from the bottom. Depending on the thickness (if it’s the skinny variety you’ll need about 20), toss 12-15 asparagus spears in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Grill the spears turning a couple times for about 5 minutes until they get good grill marks but don’t overcook.
Coarsely chop the grilled spears and transfer to a bowl. Add a teaspoon of dried oregano and a cup and a half shredded Mexican cheese of your choice and toss to combine. Divide the mixture evenly on one half of one side of four flour tortillas and fold to close.
Heat a 12 inch frying pan, non-stick if you have one, on medium high. Put the quesadillas in the pan and heat for about two to three minutes per side until they brown, heat through and the cheese starts to melt. Carefully plate and serve with a dollop of sour cream or guacamole and garnish with some chopped cilantro.
ROASTED ASPARAGUS AND PROCUITTO SALAD
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place 20 medium asparagus spears (about 3 inches of the woody bottom ends cut off) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. The parchment paper makes the clean up a snap. Toss the spears with 2 tablespoons of good olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast for about 12-15 minutes until the asparagus slightly softens and begins to brown.
In a bowl, toss about four cups of salad greens, the kind that come in the plastic containers or bags, with 1 tablespoon of good olive oil, 3 tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar and a little salt and pepper; divide evenly between four salad plates. Place an equal number of the roasted spears on the greens on each plate.
Place one whole piece of prosciutto de Parma on the spears…in a neat little pile in the center. The pre packaged prosciutto is the perfect size and is the best value. Shave a few pieces of Reggiano Parmesan over the plate and sprinkle with a teaspoon of capers and a teaspoon of diced roasted red pepper. Finally top with a few drizzles of olive oil and a cilantro or small rosemary sprig.
HOT OR COLD STEAMED ASPARAGUS SIDE DISH
HOT…remove 2-3 inches of woody end pieces of enough asparagus for four depending on the thickness. Cut into pieces about 2 inches long. Steam or par boil for about 5 minutes until al dente. Drain and put in a bowl with a quarter cup of thinly sliced green onion, a tablespoon of butter (or olive oil), a teaspoon of dried tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.
COLD…follow the instructions for “HOT” through the “steam or par boil step”. Drain the hot asparagus and immediately add it to a bowl of ice water. This will stop the cooking process. Drain after 5 minutes and dry completely. Toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, ¼ cup diced red onion and salt and pepper to taste.
Dave Clegg is a self-taught amateur chef and recipe creator who has always been inspired by his mom’s great cooking. He has been cooking for over 40 years and has lived in Carmel Valley with his family since 1985. He created “Carmel Valley Kitchen” as a way to share his passion.
Dave was recently selected as a semifinalist in the “Next Great! News Instructor Cooking Challenge” and his basic cheese cake took third place at the 2011 San Diego County Fair. Dave has a comprehensive knowledge of ingredients, equipment and cooking techniques that he is always happy to share.