To me, nothing says spring like fresh green asparagus. The bright green tender shoots that show up in abundance in late March and beyond herald the beginning of the spring and summer harvests that signal an end to the winter blahs.
My dad grew asparagus. It’s a tough little crop to get going and it requires patience — lots of patience. He started his plants from seeds in tiny little bathroom paper cups. The dozens of little cups were placed in trays covered in mulch by a sunny window in our den. Slowly, tiny green shoots popped up.
As soon as the weather was warm, my father chose a spot for the bed and planted them, right next to a fence dividing our yard from our neighbor’s. The fence got full sunshine and lots of water from our nearby swimming pool, though I’m not sure that chlorinated water is the best way to water vegetables.
That summer the crop grew into what looked like thick blades of grass. I wanted to harvest them; my dad would not allow it. So I watched as the tiny stalks turned into tiny fans. In the late fall, my dad cut them back. Winter came and the asparagus was forgotten.
The next summer I was excited when I saw hundreds of little green tips push through the earth again. But again I was told that we could not harvest. Once more, I watched the stalks turn into fans and get cut back. Another winter and another spring.
The third year, the asparagus looked like it had multiplied a thousand times. There were thicker green stalks all over the patch, and a very large crop on the other side of the fence, which our neighbors were grateful for! That year, we harvested asparagus stalks until we could no longer look at them. It seemed the more we pulled, the more grew back. We could have had our own asparagus farm stand. Each year there was more to harvest and to share with family and friends.
That is where patience comes in. For the first two years, asparagus cannot be harvested. After that, the asparagus bed is good for 15 to 20 years of production. My dad planted in 1961 or 62. When he sold the house in 1989, the asparagus bed was still flourishing. Not bad for a 59-cent package of seeds.
Asparagus is a great veggie that is versatile and can make anything from soups to show-stopping tarts and salads. Even if you do not want to plant your own, enjoy some from the market while it is at the height of the harvest.
Asparagus Cheese Puffs (Dairy)
These are delicious and really easy to make. Kids love them. Serve with a salad for a nice luncheon meal.
1/4 to 1/3 lbs. asparagus, thin, stalks work best
3/4 cup milk, whole or 2%
5 Tbsp. butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup unbleached flour or half whole wheat, half white
pinch cayenne pepper
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere, Monterey Jack, or Cheddar cheese
Break off the ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 1/4-inch pieces. Fill a sauté pan with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring to a full boil and carefully add the asparagus, making sure there is just enough water to cover. Reduce heat to a strong simmer and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain and set aside on paper towels to cool.
Sift the flour and cayenne pepper into a small bowl. Set aside.
Place the milk and butter in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the milk boils, remove it from the heat and add the flour all at one. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer into a large bowl.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition. Let cool for at least ten minutes, but no more than 15.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two cookie sheets with parchment. Lightly butter the parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray.
Add the well-drained asparagus and the cheeses to the batter and mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto the parchment and put both sheets into the oven at the same time. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for about 5 minutes and remove from the parchment to a serving dish. Serve warm. Makes about 3 dozen puffs.
Asparagus Tart (Dairy)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (about 9.5 inches square)
1-1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 Tbsp. unbleached flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1-1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 tsp. fresh parsley, finely minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1 lb. thin asparagus, bottoms trimmed, washed and dried
1-1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
OPTIONAL: 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Lightly flour the work surface and roll out the puff pastry to about 9.5 by 12 inches. Transfer to the prepared pan. Place the mascarpone in a medium bowl and add the Tbsp. of flour, salt, egg, lemon zest, chives, and tarragon and mix well.
Spread evenly over the pastry, leaving a border of about 3/4-inch on all sides. When the cheese mixture is finished, slash the border with a knife in diagonal slashes, 1 inch apart.
Place the asparagus on a plate and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat evenly.
Place half the asparagus in a single layer over half the tart. Place the rest in a single layer in the opposite direction. Drizzle with any olive oil left on the plate. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and place in the preheated oven.
Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. If you like, sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese for the last 10 minutes of baking. Let cool about 10 minutes and then cut into squares to serve. Serves 4 to 6.
Easy Lemon Garlic Sesame Asparagus and Pea Pods (Pareve or Dairy)
1 lb. asparagus
1 lb. snow pea pods or sugar snap pea pods
5 to 7 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. butter or pareve margarine
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1 to 2 tsp. water
Extra virgin olive oil
OPTIONAL: Garlic sauce or other Asian sauce that you like.
Trim the asparagus and cut each spear into about 2-inch pieces. Set aside. Trim the pea pods as needed, set aside.
Heat a large skillet and add the butter. Add the garlic and mix, stirring constantly just until fragrant. Add the asparagus and pea pods, and 1 tsp. of water, cover and heat for 1 minute, stirring once or twice. Add more water, if the water is gone, and cook for another minute if needed to obtain desired consistency or until just fork tender. Add the lemon zest and stir to heat. When the asparagus is cooked to your liking, remove from the pan to a platter, Sprinkle with sesame seeds and a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve or place in a covered container, refrigerate and serve cold on salads. Serves 4 to 8.