Spring, Just Around the Corner

Like that old Heinz ketchup commercial: Spring, it keeps us waiting. Not only because we are tired of cold New England weather after 5 months of winter, but also in anticipation of all that arrives with Spring. In the Pioneer Valley, maple syrup is a first sign of Spring because maple production starts as the snow begins to wrap up and we know that some weeks later, asparagus season will begin.

The Connecticut River Valley is renowned for its asparagus, in particular the town of Hadley, where in its abundance it’s called “Hadley grass.” When it’s in season we find it at road side stands fresh picked that morning for $5 a bunch, just pay by the honor system. If you wait until afternoon the stands will be empty until the next morning; it’s picked fresh every day.  Asparagus has a different flavor and is tender crisp when it’s picked the same day; not shipped hundreds of miles, stored in a refrigerated warehouse and put on a supermarket display.

Some like asparagus with thick stalks, others prefer tender thin stalks. My choice depends on the way I’ll prepare it: for grilling or a quick sauté, I prefer thin asparagus because it cooks through quickly. For a mix of hearty vegetables, with mushrooms, or as a side on it’s own- I select thicker stalks. People wonder where to break off the woody ends: on thin stalks you can bend the stalk near the end and it breaks where the tender becomes tough.

On thicker stalks, cut off the end where the green turns silvery white and even peel the skin if it’s tough.

We eat asparagus almost every day when it’s in season, it’s helpful to have many recipes. A few of my favorites are Grilled Asparagus with miso mayonnaise or a Dijon vinaigrette, a Spring vegetable sauté, Asparagus with wild mushrooms, and Asparagus quiche. Try to source asparagus and any other spring vegetables locally, directly from a farmer if possible, and you’ll find you’ll anticipate the flavors of Spring.


Spring Vegetable Saute

serves 4
1 medium bunch asparagus, woody stems removed, cut into 1″ lengths
1/2 lb shelling peas, shelled (3/4 cup)
1/2 lb snap peas, trimmed
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 medium parsnips, in 1/4″ slices
1 Tbsp butter
2 small shallots, diced finely
salt, pepper
Optional: add roasted diced potatoes, pan roasted mushrooms, or roasted fennel

Asparagus placed in a pot for freshness

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 1 tsp salt. Blanch the shelling peas in the boiling water for 11/2 to 2 minutes, until cooked but still crisp. Scoop with a sieve and shock in an ice water bath. Drain and set aside. Plunge snap peas into boiling water for 3-4 minutes, in the same manner remove and shock. Drain and set aside. Trim the woody stems from asparagus spears. If spears are thick, peel if tough and cut into 2″ lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Blanch until cooked but still firm, remove and shock in ice water. When cool, drain thoroughly and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over med high heat and when hot add parsnip slices. Allow to cook over medium heat and carmelize in a single layer for 2-3 minutes, add 1 Tbsp butter, salt and pepper lightly. Stir occasionally and flip, being sure to let pieces cook and brown evenly. When completely tender and browned, remove from pan and set aside. To the same pan, add 1 Tbsp butter and when melted add the blanched green vegetables (asparagus, peas, snap peas), shallots and toss to mix. Add the browned parsnips (and any additional cooked vegetables), adjust seasoning and mix thoroughly. Serve warm.

Miso Mayonnaise

yield 1 cup
1 yolk
1 T dijon
2 small cloves garlic crushed
1.5 tsp cider vinegar
2 T tamarind paste
1 c canola or sunflower oil
4 Tbsp South River Miso, any dark variety (not sweet)
1 green chile, seeded finely chopped

a Lady buying Asparagus in the market

Place egg yolk, mustard, garlic, vinegar and tamarind paste in a small food processor or blender. Turn it on and slowly add the oil, pour in a thin stream until 1/2 oil is incorporated. With the machine running, add the miso and continue with the oil until the mayonnaise is thick. Add the chili and mix. Keep refrigerated, up to 3 days.

Serve with steamed, roast or grilled asparagus

Asparagus Quiche

1-9″ pie crust, baked blind (prebaked about 12 minutes)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2/3 cup chopped shallots (about 3 medium)
1 bunch asparagus, ends removed, cut into 1 cm pieces
4 large eggs
2/3 cup half and half
1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated Fontina cheese (about 7 ounces), divided

asparagus spring vegetables

Preheat oven to 325F. Melt the butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus; sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until tender crisp. Add the shallots and sauté until softened but not brown. Transfer to plate; spread out to cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, half and half, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg in large bowl to blend. Stir in 1 cup Fontina cheese and asparagus. Pour filling into crust. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over quiche.

Bake quiche until puffed, golden brown, and just set in center, about 45 minutes. Cool 30 minutes.