Asparagus

In our garden, asparagus kicks off the edibles’ season. Only herbs like chives and mint beat it to the mark. With these perennials, there’s minimal work involved once the plants are established. Simply wait for them to start popping out of the ground, and you know it’s time to get to work in the rest of your beds.

Hands down, my favorite way to eat asparagus is grilled. It’s so easy to prepare and is a fabulous accompaniment to anything else you would throw on the grill. It also works beautifully on pasta, in risotto, or over salad greens. We often gobble it all up fresh, saving only a little for refrigerator-pickled asparagus, but sometimes we can’t keep up and the spears get tough. It’s a perfect excuse to turn those spears into a puree that can be used to flavor sauces, soups, and rice dishes after the plants have stopped producing.

My favorite way to eat asparagus is grilled. Thick or thin, you can capture that grilled flavor and enjoy it year-round. Learn to grill asparagus and make Grilled Asparagus Puree.

Grilled Asparagus

  • Servings: 4–6
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon fresh chives, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves, chopped (optional)

Snap the tough bottom ends off the asparagus and add them to your compost. Toss the spears gently in olive oil, and lay crosswise directly across the bars of a hot grill. Grill for about 3 minutes, turning for even cooking, until the spears are tender-crisp. Transfer the spears to a serving dish; if making Asparagus Puree (see below), set aside half of the spears. Squeeze half of a cut lemon over the spears in the serving dish, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and freshly chopped herbs if desired. Serves 4–6 as a side.

Tips & Tricks
  • The freshest asparagus, not necessarily the thinnest, is the most tender. So plan to grill it up the day you harvest it. If you need to wait a day or two, store it immediately in the refrigerator.
  • Grilling asparagus, whether a green or a purple variety, turns it bright green and makes for a colorful dish. But freshly picked spears can become as tough as old spears if they are left on the grill too long, so err on the side of less time.
  • Chives and mint are often ready in the garden at the same time as the first asparagus spears, so I like to sprinkle them over the dish. But you can easily substitute spring garlic, fresh rosemary from the plant you’ve been nurturing indoors all winter, or a bit of cinnamon, smoked paprika, or herb salt. Or just leave off the other flavors and let the lemon and asparagus tastes merge on your tongue.
  • Leftover or slightly tough asparagus spears can be turned into a lovely puree (see below). Don’t be afraid to double this recipe and freeze the extra as a puree for winter use.

Twice as Tasty

My favorite way to eat asparagus is grilled. Thick or thin, you can capture that grilled flavor and enjoy it year-round. Learn to grill asparagus and make Grilled Asparagus Puree.For the longest time, I believed thin meant tender in the asparagus world and that a thin yet tough spear was an anomaly. Then I learned it’s all about freshness. So rather than saving your thickest stalks for puree, save those that sat longest in your fridge. If you are buying asparagus, don’t turn up your nose at thicker stalks; instead, turn up the stalks and check their cut ends. They should still look juicy, not dried out. The tips should be tightly closed; once they start to flower open, they’ve lost moisture, converted sugars to starches, and become woody.

But if your asparagus is less than fresh perfection, don’t despair. Simply set those spears aside for a bright puree you can use to top pasta, flavor soups, or enhance risotto. I prefer to grill asparagus even for puree, but you can steam, poach, or roast it instead.

Asparagus Puree

  • Servings: 1-1/2 cups
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
reserved spears (about 2 cups when chopped) from Grilled Asparagus
1/4 cup Vegetable Stock, Corncob Stock, or water
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest or 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
3–4 fresh mint leaves (optional)
1 small handful fresh chives (optional)

Prepare your Grilled Asparagus. When it is cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces and place them in a food processor. If you will be using some of the puree fresh, set aside any asparagus tips that are still tightly closed. Add all other ingredients to the food processor and puree until smooth, pouring in an additional 1–2 tablespoons of liquid if the puree is too thick or chunky. Use the puree immediately, or let it cool to room temperature and then freeze it in an ice-cube tray or 1/2-cup containers. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Tips & Tricks
  • Frozen asparagus puree can be defrosted and folded into soup. It can also be used in a dressing for a green or potato salad.
  • Asparagus puree forms the base for a great sauce if you combine 1–2 cups of it with 1/4–1/2 cup of stock, cream, almond milk, or starchy water produced by boiling pasta or potatoes. I often add some grated Parmesan or stir in brie until it melts for a funkier bite.
  • Pasta or potatoes tossed with asparagus sauce and topped with reserved asparagus tips and chopped almonds or pistachios make a lovely dish. The same sauce can be folded into Fresh Improv Risotto or another rice dish. Alternatively, you can substitute Fresh Yogurt or sour cream for the liquid and use it as a dip for other veggies or Sourdough Pita.


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