From Chris Halpin
Asparagus is part of the lily family and it has been cultivated for around 5,000 years, not just for culinary purposes, but also for its medicinal properties. Not only is it high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals; it turns out, that it also contains an enzyme that helps to protect the liver from the damaging effects of – alcohol!
The French favour hand-snapping each asparagus, to remove the woody part, which does do the trick. However I find this to be quite time consuming. I say, keep them in a bundle and simply cut the bottom third off of the entire bunch.
When I blanch asparagus, I place them in a large pot of rapidly boiling water just long enough to have them go from a dull green to a brighter green, about 30 seconds. This indicates that the bitter tannins have been removed and ensure that it is still crisp. Then I drain and cool under cold water, then blot them dry on a tea towel. In the following recipes, I will simply say “trim and blanch” and this is what I am referring to.
Asparagus, Artichoke and Raclette Flatbread
The flavours in this recipe do a most delicious dance between the three main players. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut 4 artichoke hearts, packed in water, into 6 wedges each. Take 1 bunch of asparagus, cut the tips off about 1-inch from the top, then cut the remaining spears quite thinly to about halfway down. Take a sheet of pre-rolled puff pastry and slice it in half on the long side. With a fork, poke it randomly for vent holes. Grind quite a bit of black pepper overtop the pastry, arrange the artichokes and asparagus up the centre, leaving about an inch on either side, on both pieces. Evenly arrange 1/2 c. grated raclette cheese on each and drizzle each with 1/4 c. heavy cream. Turn the long side of the pastry edge over onto itself and with your fingers, press down to crimp the edges. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is brown and flaky. As soon as they come out of the oven, sprinkle with salt. Cut into wedges and serve. Makes 24 little wedges.
Asparagus and Leek Potage
This is a classical soup that is ready in a snap. In a large pot over medium heat, melt 1 T. butter, then add 2 leeks, thinly sliced, 1 t. white pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and sauté until the leeks are wilted, about 2 minutes. Add 4 c. chicken stock and 2 large potatoes peeled and grated, 1/2 t. ground sage, 1 t. ground ginger and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. When the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes, add 1 bunch of asparagus with the tips cut off about 1-inch from the top, and the remainder of the spears sliced thinly crosswise to about halfway down. Simmer for another minute, adjust the salt and serve. Serves 4.
Asparagus and Strawberry Salad
This is my all-time favourite spring salad. Trim and blanch 2 bundles of asparagus. Cut them into approximately 1-inch pieces. Add them to a salad bowl, with 30 strawberries that have been trimmed and cut in half. To this add 1/2 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar, 1 t. ground coriander, 1 t. black pepper and 1/2 t. salt. Gently mix and serve. Serves 6.
Grilled Asparagus Wrapped in Spicy Pancetta
This is a great hors d’oeuvre. Pancetta is to bacon what prosciutto is to ham. It comes as a roll, but is easily pulled into a strip. Preheat your barbecue to medium-high. Trim 12 asparagus spears and evenly coat in 1 T. canola oil. Unravel 12 slices of spicy pancetta and tightly wrap each asparagus. Place these on the top rack of the grill and close the lid for 2 minutes. Open the lid and roll to the side, close the lid and make your favourite cocktail. Open the lid, arrange on a platter and enjoy. Makes 1 dozen.
Pan-Seared Chicken with Asparagus and Grape Tomatoes
It’s shocking how fast this “dinner in a pan” comes together. Butterfly 2 chicken breasts, so they are about 1/2-inch thick, salt and pepper to your liking. Place a large skillet over high heat, add 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter. When the butter is foamy, add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes on either side. Add 2 c. grape tomatoes, sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the chicken, then add 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, 2 garlic cloves, minced, juice of 1 lemon, sauté for about 30 seconds, adjust the salt and serve. Serves 2.
Westphalian Ham and Asparagus Rolls on a Bed of Arugula with Apple Dill Dressing and Capers
Westphalian ham can be found at any German deli and some grocery stores. In a bowl put 2 T. grainy mustard and whisk in 1/2 c. olive oil. Whisk in 1 t. minced shallots, 1 T. chopped dill, 2 T. apple juice concentrate and 1/4 c. cider vinegar. Set aside for later. Trim and blanch 2 bundles of asparagus. Take 3 or 4 spears and wrap them into bundles with a slice of the Westphalian ham, make 8 bundles in total. On 4 plates, put a handful of arugula and arrange 2 bundles on top of each, drizzle with dressing and garnish with capers. Serves 4.
Asparagus in Truffle Butter, with Pine Nuts and Chèvre
This is great as a side or simple starter course. Trim and blanch 2 bundles of asparagus. In a skillet over medium heat, melt 2 T. butter. When it has melted and starts to foam, add the asparagus and 1/2 c. pine nuts, use tongs to roll and evenly coat. Sauté for only about a minute, remove from heat, add 1/2 t. truffle oil, a sprinkle of salt and roll to evenly coat. Divide the asparagus onto 4 plates, crumble chèvre over top of each, and spoon the pines nuts over. Serves 4.
Pasta with Shrimp, Asparagus and Shiitake
I am using cavatelli pasta, but feel free to use any pasta you have on hand. In a pan over high heat put 1/4 c. olive oil, 2 T. butter, 1 t. ground fennel and 1/2 t. chile flakes. Once the butter has melted, add 12 large shrimp and 16 small shiitake mushroom caps, halved, 1 red onion thinly sliced and 1 t. salt; sauté until the shrimp have turned pink. Now add 1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/2 c. white wine and 2 T. chopped fresh tarragon leaves. Continue to sauté until the wine starts to boil. Add 4 c. cooked pasta and heat. Spoon into bowls and garnish with grated parmesan and finely sliced basil. Serves 2 to 4.