Recipes: Spears of Joy

Asparagus signals the arrival of spring
by Marisa McClellan, foodinjars.com

Each spring, I celebrate the arrival of local asparagus. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of verdant abundance has arrived. I binge on the stuff—much like my beloved grandmother Bunny did before me—buying armloads of asparagus, slightly fearful that it will disappear before I’ve had my fill.

Humans have been cultivating asparagus since the days of ancient Egypt, both for its delicate flavor and purported medical applications. It is an herbaceous perennial plant, meaning that it returns year after year, but dies back to ground level after its growing season is complete. A single cluster of asparagus shoots can be harvested multiple times during their season. However, the first harvest will be the thickest and most tender.

One joy of asparagus is the fact that it needs only the simplest of preparations to be heavenly. I prefer it quickly roasted or steamed, drizzled lightly with a quick vinaigrette and eaten with my fingers. Add a gently poached pastured egg and you have a complete meal (with instant dipping sauce to boot).
For an impressive presentation, consider a quick tart that uses frozen puff pastry as its base. Shallots lend pungency, and a bit of shredded Gruyère acts as the most delicious glue you’ll ever know.
For those of you with an interest in preserving, asparagus can easily be pickled at home, providing you with a source of local asparagus all year round. Once you do it yourself, you’ll never go back to those overpriced, imported jars.

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Vinaigrette:

  • 2 lbs. asparagus, washed and trimmed of the woody ends
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • coarsely ground pepper

Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 5 to 6 grinds of pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spread the asparagus out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tips of the asparagus begin to frizzle and the thickest part is fork tender.
  3. While the asparagus roasts, prepare the vinaigrette. Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake briefly, until the contents are emulsified.
  4. Serve the asparagus warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of vinaigrette over the top.

Pickled Asparagus

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, trimmed to fit your jars and blanched in boiling water for approximately 10 seconds. Upon removal, quickly plunge them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • 3 cups vinager (half apple cider vinegar, half white vinegar)
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 4 tbsp. pickling spice (Penzeys makes a good one)
  • 1 tbsp. red hot chili flakes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 slices of lemon
  • 3 pint jars (if you use the taller, 12 oz. jelly jars you don't have to cut your asparagus quite as short, and you'll probably fill four jars.)
  1.  Sterilize your jars by boiling them in a canning pot for 10 minutes. Put the lemon slice in the bottom and pack the trimmed and blanched asparagus into the jars (it’s up to you to determine whether you want to go tips up or down). Tuck a garlic clove down into the asparagus spears.
  2. Bring the vinegar, water and spices to a boil. Pour into jars on top of asparagus, leaving at least half an inch of headspace.
  3. Wipe rims, apply lids and screw on the rings. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. (You can skip this step if you plan on just putting your pickles in the fridge.)
  4. Wait at least 24 hours before eating, to give the asparagus spears a chance to get sufficiently pickle-y.

Asparagus Tart

  • 2 sheets of puff pastry
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 4 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 2 bunches of asparagus, cleaned and chopped into approximately 1 1/2 lengths
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Lay the puff pastry out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet so that the sheets of dough connect into a large rectangle. Brush the pastry with the olive oil. Spread the minced shallots over the pastry in a thin, evenly distributed layer. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. (The salt helps draw out the moisture in the shallots, so they soften instead of browning.) Bake for 15 minutes.
  3. Once the pastry has baked for 15 minutes, remove it from the oven. Sprinkle the cheese over the shallots and spread the asparagus out over the tart base, making sure to leave a rim of uncovered crust all the way around. Return to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges of the pastry have browned and puffed up.
  4. Let cool for 10 minutes prior to cutting.