Finding versatility with asparagus

Chef BrettOur Town Eats

With spring in full bloom, I would like to talk about one of my favorite spring and summer vegetables: Asparagus.

Now asparagus may not seem to be an overly exciting vegetable, but it is more versatile than you might think. The good things about asparagus make it worth some experimenting that will take you beyond the grill. In addition to being rich in vitamins A, C and K, asparagus is also a great source of fiber and even helps the liver activate the cleansing process to eliminate toxins.

So, I love it for the health benefits, but I also love it for its taste and versatility. Asparagus can be prepared in a lot of different ways to accommodate any dish. It is tasty grilled, roasted, seared or even shaved raw. When you are getting fancy, puree it to accompany seared scallops with prosciutto.

The flavor profile of asparagus is relatively mild with some bitter undertones, so it stands up well to rich accompaniments, which is why it tastes so good with its classic paring of Hollandaise as well as fragrant herbs like tarragon and chives. I love to serve it with a tangy vinaigrette – which is good whether the asparagus is raw or cooked.

To prepare this great veggie, make sure you start with chopping off the bottom 1.5 inches or more.  This part of the stem is grainy, chewy and fibrous and is very unpleasant to eat whether raw or cooked.  It is safe to say you can cut off any pale green or white part of the stem near the base.

Roasting asparagus in the oven could not be any simpler. Toss the spears with an olive oil or canola oil blend, add salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and cook in a preheated 400-degree oven until the spears are pliable and do not snap when bent – approximately 5 to 6 minutes.

Shaved asparagus is a good way to serve it raw. Using a peeler, shave the spears down the best you can until you get long ribbons. Toss the pile of ribbons with a lemon vinaigrette, fresh strawberries and minced tarragon. Yum.

The bacon vinaigrette recipe below is one of my favorites to add to roasted asparagus. Toss your cooked asparagus in the vinaigrette after the vegetable is cooked. Modify the roasting recipe above by leaving out the salt and pepper. This lets the olive oil and asparagus flavors come through.

The photo shows roasted asparagus with an anchovy aioli, sprinkled with cured egg yolks. Cured egg yolks are yolks that have been cured with a salt/sugar and spices mixture, frozen and then shaved on top of vegetables and pasta for extra flavor.

Brett Bacon Vinaigrette

Brett Gardner Howell grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife, Olivia, and two children. He has been an Executive Chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country.

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