Three recipes, one sustainable ingredient: Asparagus

LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series #30. Follow us as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms.

We never knew, or even thought of, asparagus as a product of a farm. We didn’t give it much thought at all. It was a product of a can. Overcooked. Inedible. Eaten cold.

One ingredient, three recipes: Serve fresh asparagus from the Farmer’s Market for dinner on Wednesday and Saturday and make soup from the discarded stems on Sunday. Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen recipes below.

Now, today, farming asparagus has become the emblem of sustainability to us. It takes three years to raise a crop that will feed you for 20. Guilford College’s Rock Star farmer Korey Erb uses asparagus as the logo for his farm. It’s not an easy thing to grow. You need to be patient. You harvest with a light hand. Take less now to have more later. And because it’s a perennial, the land you set aside for asparagus works just like a fruit orchard. You dedicate a plot. It’s a commitment between a farmer and his crop.

Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen uses asparagus from Meadows Family Farm.

Purple asparagus in the garden at Foggy Ridge Farms. Purple asparagus turns green when you cook it so try to eat it raw.

A field of green

The nature of the plant is that asparagus is a bush. What you’re eating is actually the new shoot of the bush.

Among the growing procedures: Per the “Farmer’s Almanac”

  • Asparagus is planted in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. The plant is grown from “crowns” (1-year-old plants).
  • Asparagus does not like to have its feet “wet,” so be sure your bed has good drainage. For that reason, raised beds can be a good place to plant asparagus.
  • Do not harvest the spears in the first year, but cut down dead foliage in late fall and side-dress with compost.
  • During the second year, keep the bed thickly mulched, side-dress in spring and early fall, and cut down dead foliage in late fall.
  • Cut spears that are about 6 inches in length at an angle.

In the third year, the bush produces more sprouts. And the farmer, the hobbyist, has to make a decision about when to stop harvesting at a certain point to have a bigger crop next year.

Asparagus is featured on the Spring in Our Step menu May 15 to July 2: Green Goddess Plate roasted radishes, grilled asparagus, boiled potatoes, Screech’s tomatoes and green goddess dressing

Raw asparagus for dinner Monday

  • Store asparagus raw. You don’t want to store cooked asparagus, because the cooking process breaks down the cellular structure and it lead to spoilage faster.
  • To make a raw asparagus salad, chop it up and create your own dressing. Use three parts oil (a neutral oil, such as Canola oil) to one part vinegar.
  • Put all the ingredients in a mason jar, shake it up well, and shake it up, sprinkle it over, add salt and pepper.

Blanched asparagus on Wednesday

  • Wash and clean the asparagus.
  • Trim off the woody stems. If you bend asparagus, it’s going to naturally bend at the point where it’s most flexible. There’s a rigid part and there’s a flexible part. The woody part snaps off and is the much smaller part of the asparagus.
  • Set aside all your woody stems to make asparagus soup at the end of the week (recipe below). It will keep, uncovered, about a week in the fridge.
  • Bring salted water to a boil.
  • Place trimmed, washed asparagus into water.
  • Prepare ice bath.
  • After the asparagus is in the pot for sixty seconds, remove it from the boiling water and place asparagus into the cold water.
  • Let it soak in the ice bath for five minutes.
  • Remove and towel dry.
  • Either place it in a hot dry skillet, then drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; when it’s heated through it’s done. Or, place on an oiled grill and sprinkle with salt and pepper until it begins to wilt.

Chef’s note: thin asparagus doesn’t need to be blanched. Only standard and jumbo need to be blanched.

Asparagus soup on Sunday

We save all of woody stems and make asparagus soup. We simmer it down in some cream and put in it a little Parmesan cheese. Purée to get the flavor out. Strain the soup to remove the fiber (cellulose) and get all the flavor. There really is no recipe for it. So we encourage people to experiment on their own. Feel free to add more asparagus to ramp up the flavor and make it more subtle.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

  • 1 pound asparagus
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 fl oz canola oil
  • ½ cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • ¼ pound diced, peeled potatoes
  • 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves (or 1TBSP fresh)
  • ¼ pound Parmesan Reggiano cheese rind only
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Wash asparagus and cut the woody part of the stalk off. Blanch the tops, shock in ice water, drain and set aside for garnish. Blanch the stalks for 5 minutes. Add hot asparagus stalks to a blender with first portion of heavy cream and puree, then strain reserving solids and liquids separately. In a pan, sauté onions in oil until translucent.

In a large pot, add vegetable stock. Add all ingredients except pureed asparagus liquid and solids, stirring to incorporate. Add solids from asparagus puree and continue to simmer until potatoes are soft. Remove the Parmesan rind and discard. Puree the soup with an immersion blender.  Stir in asparagus liquid puree and then strain all through a large hole strainer.Garnish soup with cut asparagus tips.

Makes 1 quart

For more about our seasonal recipes, see our current menu at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and our Blog Recipe Index:

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