May 15, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is Asparagus!

Mikki interviews Brian Fox from Salem Mountain Farm and Chef Benjamin Cooper from Here and Now Brewing Co.  And Carol shares the many health benefits of eating fresh asparagus.

Purchasing asparagus
When buying asparagus, look at the tip of the spear; it’s called the crown or floret, and it should be tightly closed and erect, not open and droopy. The color of the asparagus should be fresh, bright green, with no hint of yellow. The stalk should feel firm. Asparagus is freshest in the spring, from April to June. Figure on serving half a pound of asparagus per person.

Storing asparagus
Ideally asparagus should go from the market to the cooking pot. The best way to store it, however, is to treat it like fresh flowers: trim off a quarter to half inch of the bottom ends of the stalk, and then rinse the spears well. (If especially sandy, soak them in cold water for 10 minutes and then rinse well.)  Put the stalks in a tall container with an inch or so of water and refrigerate until ready to cook. If you want, you can loosely tent the container with a plastic bag. If there’s no room in the fridge, wrap the stems in a couple of wet paper towels, put everything in a plastic bag and refrigerate.

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To peel or not to peel The bottom of the stem is often fibrous—too stringy and chewy to be edible—and so here’s where you have to make a choice:

(1) You can snap off the stem end (as many home cooks were taught by their mothers). To do this, hold the stalk in one hand and grip the bottom end with two fingers from your other hand, and then bend the stalk. The woody end will snap off exactly in the right place.

(2) Alternatively, you can peel the spear, which will remove the tough, woody fibers in the skin to reveal the tender, inner, edible part. If peeling, start at the base of the stem and peel upward toward the crown, removing the outer layer of skin. Peeling well up the stalk, stop an inch or two before you reach the crown. Pencil-thin asparagus rarely needs as much peeling—perhaps just the bottom inch or two, and precooking is mostly unnecessary.

Here’s a video:
Note: Reserve stem ends and peelings to make a broth with other vegetables.

Precooking or blanching helps preserve flavor, texture, and color.
Half fill a large skillet with water, add 1 Tablespoon salt for every pound of asparagus, and bring to a fierce boil. Make sure all the spears are pointing in the same direction and place them in the boiling water. Cook uncovered for a minute or two, or until the stalk is crisp/tender when pierced with a pointed knife. Scoop out the stalks and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and lock in the fresh, green color. After 10 minutes remove from the ice water and drain well. Refrigerate in a plastic bag until ready to cook and serve.

Sautéing is the simplest preparation

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Featured Recipe

Asparagus in the Style of Parma Serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 pounds asparagus (blanched)
2 to 3 Tbsp butter
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

About 10 minutes before serving, heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and sauté, turning gently until heated through. Remove the asparagus to a serving plate. Serve, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Here’s an Italian-inspired, original recipe for asparagus with spring vegetables in Parmesan broth

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Asparagus in Parmesan Brodo & Spring Veggie Salad
This recipe is offered by Chef Ben Cooper of Here & Now Brewing Company in Honesdale, PA.

The secret ingredient in making the following brodo (broth) is the Parmesan rind. When you buy Parmesan, consider purchasing a chunk with rind (not pre-grated cheese). Then, whenever you use Parmesan, save the rind for future Italian soups such as minestrone. To keep your Parmesan; wrap the rind and remaining chunk of cheese separately in wax paper, then in foil; store on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator; it will last a long time as long as it is not exposed to air.

2 pounds asparagus
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup carrot, roughly chopped
1 cup celery, roughly chopped
1 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
Appx. ¼ cup of white wine
A generous piece of Parmesan rind (as much as 8 ounces) or other hard Italian cheese

Lightly peel the asparagus from the base of the stalk toward the crown or floret. Reserve the peels for the broth, and set aside the peeled stalks for the salad.

Heat a 4-quart or larger stock pot over medium heat and add butter. Sauté the carrots, celery, and onions until softened and fragrant. Deglaze with white wine.

Add 3 quarts of cold water, reserved asparagus peels and trimmings, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and cheese rind. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours.  While the broth is simmering, prepare the salad.

Reserved, peeled asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 oz of spring radishes, washed and thinly sliced.
1 small bunch of ramps (aka wild leeks), cleaned and chopped fine (if available).
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar 
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup shredded hard Italian cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the peeled, cut asparagus for 30 seconds. Then plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

Once cooled, drain cooked asparagus, add shaved radishes, and chopped ramps (if using). Season with sherry vinegar, olive oil, and cheese. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Add salad to a warmed soup bowl. Pour hot, strained broth into the bowl.

Garnish with fresh herbs. Serve and enjoy!

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Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

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