Fresh Sheet…Asparagus

Nothing says spring like the earthy, sweet taste of asparagus. These brave spears burst through the soil as the weather warms, unlike the shyly unfurling fiddlehead or the quietly persisting leafy greens.  Their flavour and delicate crunch awakens our palettes, lulled into submission by an endless parade of root veggies. Their very green-ness makes me ever more excited for all the tasty treats to come.

Like many greens, asparagus is rich in folate for a healthy nervous system and vitamin K for healthy blood clotting and strong bones. However, asparagus is also a good source of glutathione, which is a energizing anti-oxidant. No matter how nutritious asparagus may be, it is the sheer pleasure of eating it that excites us again and again.

To buy asparagus, look for bright green stalks and tightly closed tips. The stalks should be straight and firm with minimal white ends. That bargain asparagus in the supermarket? By the time you snap off all the woody end, it isn’t such a bargain. When you can find it, hand-harvested asparagus will be all tender stalk, the perfect showpiece for your spring feast. Store fresh asparagus by wrapping the bottom of the stalks in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag. Use within a day or two as asparagus degrades quickly.

To use, snap off the end where it naturally breaks and rinse well. Asparagus is delicious grilled, roasted, sautéed or when it is really fresh, in a beautiful salad. We also published a delicious asparagus risotto recipe earlier this spring. Enjoy!

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Beets and Hazelnuts

This salad is spring on a plate. The subtle sweetness of local asparagus (don’t bother with this recipe out of season!) paired with the earthiness of fresh thyme, a bright splash of citrus and rich hazelnuts is delivers all that is best about the season.

Serves 2 or 4 as appetizers

1 lb local asparagus, washed (do not trim dry ends)
1 lg (or 2 small) beets, peeled and trimmed
1/2 c hazelnuts
1 cup chèvre or 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (optional)
1 tbsp lemon zest

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste

To shave asparagus, start by snapping off the heads of asparagus and setting aside. Keep dry ends so you have a handle for shaving – don’t use in salad. Use a very sharp peeler and, holding on to dry end, peel thin ribbons off the asparagus. The longer the asparagus is, the more the ribbons will turn out like pasta. Set aside.

Use the peeler to shave beet ribbons or use a spiral mandolin to make long, spaghetti-like strands. Arrange the asparagus, beets, cheese (if using) and hazelnuts on plate. Sprinkle lemon zest over the veggies.

Meanwhile, shake up remaining ingredients in a jam jar and pour over salads. You may make the dressing ahead of time but the salad is best prepared fresh.

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