Asparagus is the star of spring vegetables, a perennial favorite cultivated in gardens and found growing wild throughout the country. I remember spotting patches of wild asparagus along country roads growing up in Missouri; it was as common as hunting for morel mushrooms. Fun as foraging can be, these coveted spears of spring are readily available in stores and more budget-friendly than any other time of the year.
White asparagus is considered a delicacy because of its mild flavor and striking color. Grown under cover of soil to prevent the plant from producing chlorophyll like its green variety, it is like starting with a blank canvas. Its mild flavor may be more appealing to children trying asparagus for the first time. Green, white, steamed, roasted, grilled, drizzled with classic hollandaise or a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, there are many ways to enjoy this versatile veggie. What a delicious adventure finding your favorite.
Storing: The ideal way to store asparagus is to trim the fibrous ends, stand-up in an inch of water, and keep it in the refrigerator. Any container that will hold the asparagus upright will work; we often use a large coffee cup. This method will keep the asparagus fresh for up to a week, perhaps longer if it was kept this way in the store.
Preparation: The classic preparation for asparagus is to peel the spears just below the heads to make them more tender. Though I have not used this method of preparation, it is useful if the spears are large and more fibrous. Choosing thinner spears will eliminate the need to peel them.
The bottoms should be trimmed before cooking. Either cut or snap off the bottoms at the natural bend or breaking point of the stalk (where the color changes from white to green), 1-2 inches from the base.
The following recipe is our favorite—roasted asparagus garnished with some combination of the following: feta, blue cheese, Gorgonzola, or Parmesan; mandarin oranges, tangerine or orange segments; crispy walnuts, pecans, or sliced almonds. Roasting brings out the natural nuttiness of the asparagus. Garnished with tart cheese, sweet mandarins, and crunchy walnuts, this dish is as beautiful as it is delicious.
Roasted Asparagus with Feta, Mandarin Oranges & Walnuts
1 pound asparagus — ends trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
11 ounces mandarin orange segments — drained (or fresh, peeled and separated into segments)
1/4 cup feta cheese — crumbled
1/3 cup sweetly spiced walnuts
salt and pepper
Position top oven rack approximately 6 inches under broiler and turn broiler on HI. Prepare asparagus by trimming fibrous ends. Arrange asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet so that each spear is touching the pan and separate. Drizzle with olive oil and roll asparagus to coat well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Set asparagus under the broiler for 8-10 minutes, checking and turning (rolling 1/4 turn) asparagus every few minutes until lightly browned in spots and crisp tender. Cook slightly longer if a softer texture is preferred.
Remove from oven and arrange in a single layer on a platter. Sprinkle with feta cheese, mandarin orange segments, and sliced walnuts. Serve immediately.
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