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The Noblest Spears

By Sara Bir

One of the earliest indications of spring's arrival is the sudden bounty of cheap asparagus. Instead of costing $6 or $7 a pound, the pointy stalks drop to less than a dollar a bundle. The budget-minded of us (as well as those who prefer to consider seasonality when composing their diet) have to wait a whole year for the asparagus season's narrow window between late February and early April--and once it's here, there's a lot of asparagus consumption to catch up on. Asparagus can be sandy, so either soak it briefly in cold water or rinse it before using. The woody lower part of the stalk is not often favored; break the asparagus stem where it wants to break and reserve the thick end for soups. Here are a handful of quick-fix asparagus preparations in honor of the season:

  • Clean a pound of asparagus and lay it in a skillet. Add about half an inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat, adding more water as needed if the skillet starts to look dry. Cook until tender, drain off any extra water, remove from heat and sprinkle with a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. Allow to sit for a minute or two before seasoning with salt and pepper and butter, or a drizzle of olive oil and a drape of sliced proscuitto. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of lightly crushed cacao nibs (rich and crunchy pieces of roasted cocoa beans; use Scharffen Berger).
  • Toss dry trimmed spears with olive oil, salt, pepper and a clove or two of chopped garlic. Roast at 375 degrees until tender. Squeeze fresh lemon juice atop and serve at room temperature.
  • Trim a pound of thin asparagus and cut on the diagonal into pieces about one inch long. Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok or skillet; add two thinly sliced scallions and once clove of minced garlic and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add asparagus and a little bit of chicken stock or water. Stir-fry until asparagus is tender. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds.
  • And if, after all that, you still find a surplus of spears hogging your crisper drawer, here's a wonderful soup to make.

    Spring Green Soup

    Every spring I am compelled to grab every edible green thing in sight and make a quick, fresh-tasting soup out of it. Think of this as a basic formula; use a few zucchini instead of the broccoli, add a potato for some body or use a leek instead of the scallions. Serves four to six.

    1 tbsp. butter
    about 5 scallions, roughly chopped
    2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
    1 pound asparagus, trimmed and broken into 2-inch pieces
    1 8-ounce stalk broccoli (cut into several florets, stem peeled and chopped)
    4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
    1 c. frozen green peas
    a tablespoon or two fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, chervil or tarragon

    Melt the butter in a small stockpot over medium heat. Add the scallions and celery, and cook until the scallion tops turn bright green. Add the asparagus, broccoli and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but not yet mush.

    Turn off the heat. Add the frozen peas and herbs. Allow the soup to cool a bit while the peas thaw and then turn bright green. Transfer in batches to a food processor or blender and puree until well blended. Season pureed soup to taste with salt. Serve garnished with cream or thick yogurt, croutons and snipped fresh herbs.

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    From the March 16-22, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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