Savor delicious spring vegetables like asparagus and artichokes – Orange County Register
Sunday, March 20 marks the official start of spring. It won’t be long before the market shows off the wealth of seasonal produce, with large leafy displays of asparagus and artichokes. These versatile vegetables are delicious in a wide variety of dishes, and I’ve included three of my favorites here. But first, some tips for buying and storing these harbingers of spring.
Asparagus: Choose rods that are about the same size for even cooking. The tips should be tightly closed. The color can be green, purple or white, depending on the variety. Make sure the color is not faded. Plan to use it within 3 days of purchase, stored unwashed in a plastic bag in a crisper with nothing heavy stored on top.
Artichokes: Look for ones that are tightly closed, compact, and feel heavy for their size. Avoid overripe, open artichokes, or those with firm tips and dry-looking leaves. Refrigerate unwashed in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer for up to 6 days.
Asparagus with Crispy Bacon Croutons and Green Vinaigrette
I grabbed this lovely asparagus recipe from chef Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook, “Together” (Flatiron Books, $35). It is a delicious dish hot, at room temperature or cold. I don’t think I’ll be making croutons for non-veg dishes any other way in the future, browning the bread cubes while simultaneously cooking thin slices of bacon. Delicious.
Yield: 8 servings (can serve 4 as a main course)
2 green onions, roots trimmed
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch Italian parsley, divided use
2 tablespoons water, more if needed
4 slices of bacon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of ground black pepper
1 cup sourdough bread packed in 1/2 inch cubes
2 pounds fresh asparagus, tough ends cut or broken
8 large eggs
1. Roughly chop the green stems of the green onions and place them in a blender (high speed blender preferred). Cut the white part of the green onions into thin slices and reserve for garnish. Add the mustard, vinegar and oil to the blender. Twist and tear 3/4 of the parsley leaves and delicate stems from the bunch, leaving thick leaves behind; add to blender. Add 2 tablespoons of water and turn on the blender. Swirl until pureed. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed (most likely salt will be needed), adding a little more water if too thick; swirl again. Put aside.
2. Prepare the bacon croutons: cut the bacon into narrow slices. Put a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil plus a pinch of pepper. Add bacon and bread cubes. Bake, 10 to 15 minutes, until golden and crispy, stirring frequently. Put aside.
3. Divide the dressing, placing 3/4 in a large bowl and the rest in a smaller bowl ready to drizzle. Cook asparagus in a large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes or until tender. Use tongs to transfer asparagus to large bowl; toss to coat.
4. Gently lower the eggs into a pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt (I use a large slotted spoon to lower them and scoop them out). Cook 6 1/2 minutes. Drain; cool and peel under cold running water.
5. Divide the asparagus among 8 plates (or 4 plates if used as a starter). Cut the shelled eggs in half and place them next to the asparagus, cut side up. Drizzle more dressing over asparagus. Sprinkle with croutons and bacon. Garnish with a white portion of sliced green onions and small sprigs of parsley.
Source: Adapted from “Together” by Jamie Oliver (Flatiron Books, $35)
Roasted artichokes with lemon vinaigrette
Roasted artichokes are delicious topped with a lemon-rich vinaigrette. If you are planning to have spring entertaining, this is a good choice because most of the preparation can be done in advance. They are delicious served hot or at room temperature.
Yield: 4 servings
3 lemons, divided use
4 artichokes (8 to 10 ounces each)
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced into a paste
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Cut 1 lemon in half, squeeze the halves into a container filled with 2 liters of water, then add the spent halves. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut the stem about 1/4 inch off and cut off the top quarter of the artichoke. Break the bottom 3 or 4 rows of outer leaves by pulling them down. Using kitchen scissors, cut off the top portion of the outer leaves. Using a paring knife, cut off the outer layer of the stem and base, removing any dark green parts. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise, then remove the fuzzy choke and any small purple-tinted inner leaves with a small spoon. Immerse the prepared artichokes in lemon water.
2. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of oil. Remove the artichokes from the lemon water, shaking off the excess water. Toss the artichokes with 2 tablespoons of oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper; Gently rub the oil and seasoning between the leaves. Arrange the artichokes cut side down in the prepared dish. Cut the ends off the remaining 2 lemons, half crosswise, and arrange cut side up next to the artichokes in the dish. Cover tightly with foil and roast until cut side of artichokes begin to brown and bases and leaves are tender when pierced with top of paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes .
3. Transfer the artichokes to a serving platter. Let the lemons cool slightly, then squeeze them through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, extracting as much juice and pulp as possible; press firmly on solids to obtain 1 1/2 tablespoons of juice. Whisk the parsley, garlic, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon salt into the juice. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the artichokes with the vinaigrette on top.
Source: “Vegetables Illustrated” from America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, $40)
Asparagus and Lemon Quiche
If you’re looking for a deep quiche that serves as a robust starter, this isn’t what you’re looking for. This tasty dish is prepared in a pie pan, the type that measures less than an inch high. It would be a welcome addition as part of a picnic menu or as an appetizer. What it lacks in volume, it makes up for in vibrant flavor. A thin slice of lemon is cut into strips and added, zest and all, to the mixture. Sour cream also comes to the party. Quiche is best eaten the day it is baked, but leftovers can be refrigerated (and are delicious).
Yield: 6 servings
A sheet of chilled store-bought pie crust
6 medium to large stemmed asparagus, tough ends cut off or broken off
1 1/2 teaspoons of butter
2 small shallots or 1 large shallot, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4-inch-thick slice of lemon (including zest), cut into strips
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy whipped cream
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as chives and tarragon
Optional: 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
1. Set oven rack to center position and heat to 375 degrees. Place a 9-9 1/2 inch pie pan (I use the removable-bottom type) on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Spread the pie dough in the mold and prick the bottom with a fork. Cut the top even with the rim of the pan. Place a piece of parchment paper or foil against the crust and fill with raw rice or beans or pie weights. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and the weights; cook 4 minutes.
2. Bring a large skillet half full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook for about 3 minutes, or until just tender. Do not overcook. Drain in a colander and run under cold water. Dry.
3. Cut off the tips of the asparagus, making pieces about 3 inches long; cut each in half lengthwise. Cut the remaining asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces. Wipe out the pan.
4. Put the pan on medium heat and add the butter; once melted, add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Scrape into crust, spreading evenly. Add small pieces of asparagus and slices of lemon.
5. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, sour cream and herbs until well blended. Season with salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) and pepper, then pour into the crust (always on a rimmed baking sheet). Arrange the asparagus tips, cut side down, on the filling. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if using, after 20 minutes. The quiche is ready when the pastry cream is set and puffed up – and a tester comes out clean. Serve just warm or at room temperature.
Source: “Cooking with Dorie” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $35)
Kitchen issue? Contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]