vegetables

A million delicious ways to put asparagus on your springtime table (including some new ones!)

Goodbye, Brussels sprouts. Hello, asparagus – springtime's A-list vegetable.

Of course fava beans, English peas and artichokes rock the season as well, but asparagus stands apart, as it's so abundant and easy to get along with. If asparagus were as expensive as it was once upon a time, we'd likely celebrate it as a luxury, up there with morels and ramps and fiddlehead ferns. But it's not – which is why it finds a starring role on my table several times a week when it's in season.

There are a million delicious things you can do with it, from steaming to roasting to grilling to braising, sautéeing or stir-frying – even shaving the stalks with a peeler and adding them raw to a salad.

Most traditional is steaming it – in one of those upright baskets. I've never owned one; instead I trim the ends, use a vegetable peeler to peel the stalks halfway up or more, lay them flat in a wide pan and simmer them in salted water. After draining the stalks well, you can dress them in butter and serve them warm or send them to the table with a fluffy, lemony hollandaise. Or dress them in vinaigrette (that's lovely served warm, at room temp or chilled). Or keep them naked, chill 'em and serve with mayo. 

Easiest is roasting asparagus. A turn in the oven gives it a completely different character, no less delicious. Just snap off the tough bottoms or trim them with a knife, lay them on a baking sheet with a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, roll the stalks around to coat them, and roast for 17 minutes (for stalks of medium thickness) at 400 degrees F.

Grilling is nearly as easy: Brush the stalks or roll them around in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt, toss them on the grill or a hot grill pan and cook until they're just tender.

One mistake people (including home cooks and many a restaurant) often make: undercooking them. They shouldn't be crunchy; they need to be tender. How to know when they're done? Use tongs to lift them up by the middle of the stalk. When they're done, they'll droop a bit on either side. 

Roasted asparagus and radishes from Steven Satterfield's Root to Leaf cookbook

Last spring I fell in love with Steven Satterfield's recipe for roasted asparagus with green garlic and radishes, from his then-just-published cookbook Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons. I haven't been able to find green garlic where I live in North Texas, so used regular garlic, Satterfield's suggested substitution. Simple and fabulous, the dish instantly became a regular player in my spring repertoire. Best of all, it's so easy to put together you don't even really need the recipe: Just cut the asparagus into 1 1/2-inch lengths, cut the radishes into quarters and toss both in a bowl with a little olive oil, finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet, baking dish or roasting pan and roast in a 400 degree oven till they're just tender, about 15 minutes. Want more specifics? Here's the adapted recipe:

Last weekend I fell in love again: With a technique for braising asparagus in butter I gleaned from a recent story and recipe in the New York Times by David Tanis. 

Butter-braised asparagus with herbs

The technique is brilliant: Place asparagus spears flat in a pan with a good deal of butter and a little water, salt and pepper; cover the pan and cook till the asparagus is just tender. Remove the asparagus and reduce the cooking liquid to nice sauce. Tanis adds lemon zest, lemon juice and chopped herbs, then garnishes the dish with herb leaves. It was super, though I had to tweak the recipe a bit (mine needed more liquid and longer in the pan; I added more water and a little more butter. I'll add an adapted recipe here once have time to retest it (watch this space!). In any case, butter-braising gives the asparagus a rich and luxurious silkiness and this too will become a go-to treatment chez moi. I love the lemon and herb flavors with it, but it should be great without them, too.

Meanwhile, in case you're wondering about the photo that leads off this post, that's a salad of shaved raw asparagus, sautéed asparagus and black lentils from Michael Anthony's V is for Vegetables, which just won a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the category of Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian. Again, this recipe needed some adjustments (more acid in the dressing, for one thing), but it's pretty swell, so I'll tweak and provide an adaptation soon! (I was wowed last fall by Anthony's cooking at Untitled at the Whitney Museum in New York City, so was excited to cook from his book). 

Asparagus with new-wave gribiche

Are you still with me? I want you to have all these asparagus ideas and recipes in one place. Another great way to serve asparagus is with sauce gribiche, whether the new-wave version shown in the photo above, or a slightly more traditional one. Just simmer the stalks in salted water, roast or grill them (as explained earlier in this post), and dress with the gribiche of your choice. Here's the new-wave gribiche recipe:

And here's an adaptation of Judy Rodger's four-minute egg gribiche from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Just one more direction, and it's a good one: Stir-fry asparagus Chinese-style. I wrote about this version adapted from Lucky Peach 101 Easy Asian Recipes in mid-February, when springtime was still a dream away.

I know you want the recipe. Here you go:

Now let's get cooking!

 

 

 

 

Celebrate spring with a sugar-snap pea salad with lemon and parmesan

Spring is here – officially, anyway. In my hometown, Los Angeles, that means asparagus and fabulous strawberries and English peas, favas, nettles and morels. Where I live now, in North Texas, it means tornados and thunderstorms and hail. English peas? Not so much. 

I do find nice asparagus in the market, and good sugar snap peas – which I love to blanch lightly, slice up and toss in a lemony vinaigrette with snipped chives and grated parm. It was inspired by a salad I fell in love with a couple years ago over lunch with my girlfriend An-My at ABC Kitchen in New York. 

There's really not much to it. It takes a little while to slice up all the sugar snaps; after that, it comes together in a flash. I'm thinking it would be really nice served with frico, those lacy Italian parmesan crisps. (Remind me to scare up a recipe for them sometime soon!) 

Anyway, it's a lovely starter on its own.  Even if it's stormy outside, at your table it will feel like spring. Here's the recipe:

Sauce gribiche makes every simple thing you cook instantly delicious

Seared barramundi with gribiche

How about an easy-to-make sauce that can turn the simplest grilled fish into a dazzling dinner party dish? Or that can dress up boiled or roasted asparagus? Or that you can add to sliced boiled potatoes to turn them into the snazziest potato salad ever?

That's the beauty of sauce gribiche: It can make every simple old thing deliciously new again. 

Poached leeks. Poached chicken. Boiled shrimp. Cold cracked crab. Fried or pan-fried soft shell crabs. Steamed mussels. Thick roasted slices of cauliflower. Sliced rare roast beef or lamb or ham. The possibilities are, you know, endless.

Traditional sauce gribiche is a mayonnaise made with hard-boiled egg yolks instead of raw ones, dressed up with herbs, capers and cornichons. (It's French, which is why it's called "sauce gribiche" instead of "gribiche sauce.") That old-style version is just as tedious to make as mayo, too, as you have to dribble in the oil while you constantly whisk, being careful not to let it "break." (Don't worry, though: Our new-wave version is super easy!)

The traditional style of gribiche bears little resemblance visually to the new-wave versions turning up in restaurants these days, though the ingredients are the same. The reason? Instead of whisking the ingredients into an emulsion, you quickly stir everything together. Using soft-boiled eggs instead of hard-boiled ones, and lots of herbs, brings it irresistibly into the 21st century in terms of looks and taste. 

Grilled jumbo asparagus with gribiche and bottarga from Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California

I stumbled on one as I flipped through Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California – the new book from chef Travis Lett. Lett uses it to sauce jumbo asparagus that he first parboils, then grills; the dish is finished with lots of grated bottarga, dried cured mullet roe. I love bottarga, and I happened to have some in my fridge, so I made it – and loved it. (Note: in case you happen to make it, boil the asparagus longer than he tells you, or it will be crunchy-hard. Also, I substituted panko for the garlic crouton crumbs that added a bunch of extra steps to his recipe, and the panko worked great.) But bottarga is hard to come by, and it's expensive, so before I added it to the dish, I tasted it without. Good, but not great. It wanted a little more zing. I decided to develop a recipe that would be zingy enough to jazz up simple, plain food without the help of bottarga. 

I pretty quickly hit upon the answer: cornichons. Traditional gribiches include them, yet Gjelina's did without them (probably they would taste weird with the bottarga). Adding them did the trick: It was much more vibrant. I made a batch and tried that on asparagus I cooked simmered in salted water till tender:

Asparagus with new-wave gribiche

Bingo! This was perfect! I also used it to sauce barramundi, a delicately flavored fish with nice body. I did nothing fancier than put salt and freshly ground black pepper on the fish, and seared it gently in a little olive oil. Wow – it was really good, something I'd happily serve at a dinner party. 

Want to try it? Here's the recipe:

Seared barramundi with new-wave sauce gribiche

I didn't stop there. I also found a version in one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Judy Rodgers' The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I'll tell you about that – and more about gribiche – in my next post!