Monday, November 27, 2006

Asparagus Atonement

I must confess that I harbored ill feelings towards asparagus for a long time. I grew up on a farm, and this grassy veggie was plentiful, but I could not stomach eating it. My mother used to chop it up, boil it to near mush, and cream it. Ugh. I'm sorry, but something so fresh and lively as asparagus needs to be complimented, not smothered.

So, many years later I took the leap to try it again when my sister had whipped it up one night. She barely blanched the bunch in boiling water and then threw it in a frying pan with some butter and garlic. We then threw on some salt and pepper and I tell you what, I fell in love.

Now I make asparagus all of the time, and here is my favorite way of eating it. Everyone who knows me knows that I have this passion for kitchen gadgets and things. Well, I've fallen so hard for asparagus that I purchased a special pot to steam it in. It's tall and very thin with a wire basket that fits inside (yes, the sweet stems stand up while steaming, tips upward please) and then you cover it with a lid.

It's very simple to use and putting in only a few inches of water on the bottom and bringing it to a boil seems to do the trick nicely. The veggie is nice and evenly crisp from bottom to tip, and never overdone. Oh, you can use the pot for other things too when you're not cooking up asparagus. I boil eggs in mine, and the nice basket helps me lift them out and cool them down under running cold water.

Asparagus & Garlic
Serves 1-3 people

1 bunch of fresh asparagus (I like the thinner stalks, but you can get whatever you'd like)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsly chopped
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
a healthy sized lemon wedge (about a quarter)

Prepare the basket with the cleaned asparagus. I don't cut off the ends, I just give it a gentle bend, and wherever it snaps off is suppose to be more woody and should be discarded. You can just trip off the bottoms with a knife if you don't mind the tougher ends. Do not put the basket into the pot with the water until it comes to a boil. Once it does, slip the basket in and cover with the lid. Now is the time to prepare the ice water bath. Just fill up a container with cold water and throw in a couple of trays of ice.

Steam the asparagus for approximately 3-4 minutes depending on how crunchy you like them. I just pull the lid off, reach in and grab one to sample. At this time they are a vibrant green, and I like to make them just slightly underdone as I reheat them anyway. Pull out the basket and pour the steamy stems into the ice bath. Move them around and they should stop cooking almost immediately. Let them sit in the water.

In a heavy frying pan, heat up the olive oil over low heat, add the garlic and saute till fragrant but the garlic is not brown. Turn the heat to high then grab the asparagus by bunches (you don't have to drain them too carefully as the moisture helps in the saute) and throw them in the pan with the garlic. Sizzle! Move the asparagus around to coat evenly and saute for approximately 2 minutes or heated through. Sprinkle with some kosher salt and a generous grind of coarse black pepper.

Plate on a platter and spoon over any garlic and oil that may be left in the pan. Gotta get all the good stuff! Squeeze the lemon wedge over the top and garnish if you'd like with lemon slices. Serve immediately although this is just as good at room temperature.

I am so glad that I put my fears aside and enjoy this simple but elegant dish. Well, I must admit that I prefer to eat asparagus with my fingers. Happy eating!

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