At this time of year, asparagus shines. It is a nutrient-dense crop that peaks in early spring when the weather is still a bit cool.
And there are many healthful ways to prepare it: roasted, grilled, sauteed, steamed, blanched or even as a soup. Try the accompanying recipes, or just drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and bake the spears at 400 degrees or grill them until tender, and add lemon juice, black pepper before serving.
For the following recipe the asparagus can be cooked, cooled and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance. It's best to toss it with the dressing just before serving. You'll have leftover dressing, which can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This holiday side dish is gluten-, egg- and dairy-free. The dressing has a creamy quality. Feel free to add grape tomatoes, pine nuts and/or chunks of ripe avocado for more texture and color.
ASPARAGUS WITH SHALLOT DRESSING
6 to 8 servings
2 pounds asparagus, preferably similar in thickness
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
Juice from 1 lemon (2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water and ice cubes.
Meanwhile, trim the woody ends of the asparagus. Peel some of the stalks, if desired. Cut the asparagus on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces.
Add the asparagus to the pot and cook/blanch for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is just tender and bright green. Use a Chinese skimmer or wide slotted spoon to transfer it to the ice-water bath to cool.
Combine the shallot, lemon juice, honey, garlic, sea salt and pepper in a mini-food processor. Pulse until well combined. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream to form an emulsified dressing.
Drain the asparagus; transfer it to paper towels to dry, then place in a large bowl. Add 4 tablespoons of the dressing and toss to coat evenly. Taste; adjust the seasoning or add dressing as needed.
RAW ASPARAGUS, MUSHROOM AND PARSLEY SALAD WITH NUTS AND PARMESAN
Start to finish: 30 minutes; servings: 4
Kosher Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound asparagus, tough stems trimmed and discarded (peeled if thicker than 1/3 inch)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
4 ounces firm white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pistachios or chopped toasted walnuts
1 ounce shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a large bowl, combine a hefty pinch of salt, some black pepper and the lemon juice. Whisk until the salt is dissolved, then add the oil in a stream, whisking. Set aside.
Lay the asparagus flat on a cutting board and slice a few stalks at a time very thin on a diagonal to create thin oblong slices. Add to the salad bowl along with the parsley, mushrooms and pistachios or walnuts. Toss well to coat with the dressing. Divide the salad among 4 serving plates and top each portion with some of the cheese.
Nutrition per serving: 160 calories; 120 calories from fat (75 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 7 g protein; 260 mg sodium.
SMOKED ASPARAGUS SOUP
Makes about 12 cups (8 to 12 servings)
3 pounds fresh asparagus, preferably of medium thickness, rinsed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup chopped shallots
1 cup chopped leeks, whites only, well rinsed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
8 cups homemade or no-salt-added chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shaved or finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
Prepare a grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat a large vegetable grilling basket or fine-mesh grill screen with oil.
Drain pre-soaked applewood chips and keep them near the grill.
Trim any woody asparagus ends. Spread the asparagus in the grilling basket or on the grill screen; place on the grate directly over the heat and grill until the asparagus is charred on all sides yet still firm, about 5 minutes, using tongs to turn the spears as needed.
Move the asparagus to the indirect-heat side of the grill. Scatter the wood chips onto the coals. Close the grill lid. Smoke until the asparagus turns just barely soft, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the asparagus to a cutting board. When it's cool enough to handle, cut the spears into 1/2-inch pieces, reserving the tips separately.
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the shallots and leeks, stirring to coat. Cook for about 3 minutes, until tender, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus pieces (not the tips), salt, white pepper and the broth; cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is quite tender. Remove from the heat.
Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth.
If serving right away, return the pureed soup to the pot. Stir in the cream and cook over medium-low heat until warmed through.
Divide among individual bowls. Garnish with some of the asparagus tips and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Nutrition per serving (based on 12): 120 calories, 5 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
ALMOND-CRUSTED BAKE-FRIED ASPARAGUS
Start to finish: 35 minutes (15 minutes active); servings: 6
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bunches asparagus, tough bottoms trimmed
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Coat the rack with cooking spray.
In a very large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the almond flour, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.
Place the asparagus in the egg whites and gently roll or toss until all of the spears are coated and moistened. A few spears at a time, transfer the asparagus to the almond flour mixture. Roll the spears in the mixture until evenly and well coated. If needed, pat the coating on with your hands. Arrange the coated spears on the prepared rack. When all of the spears are on the rack, spritz them lightly with cooking spray.
Roast for 20 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Nutrition per serving: 190 calories; 110 calories from fat (58 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein; 700 mg sodium.