Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill.
Humans have been cultivating asparagus since the days of ancient Egypt, both for its delicate flavor and for assumed medical applications. It is an herbaceous perennial plant, meaning that it returns year after year, but dies back to ground level after its growing season is complete. A single cluster of asparagus shoots can be harvested multiple times during their season. However, the first harvest will be the thickest and the very most tender.
One joy of asparagus is the fact that it is needs almost nothing in the way of cooking to be entirely heavenly. My default preparation is to rinse the stalks, trim away the bottom inch or so, drizzle them with olive oil, add a little salt and roast at 400°F until they are just tender. If the stalks prove to be aggressively sandy (a danger with asparagus), a 60 second dip in boiling water will pull the grit and dirt out of the stalks.
Once I feel I’ve eaten enough plain roasted asparagus to satisfy my winter-long hunger, I start cooking them into things. Though I’m a happy omnivore, I do occasionally like a plant-based meal and a batch of blended asparagus and leek soup, made creamy with soaked cashews, always hits the spot.
For brunches, I regularly make a quick tart with frozen puff pastry, shallots, Gruyere and plenty of asparagus. It’s seriously easy and is impressively gorgeous. Served with a basic green salad, I happily eat any leftovers for lunch.
Spring is the start of the potluck and cookout season, and while it’s in season, I like to integrate asparagus into my meal offering. Over the years, I’ve made asparagus salads with barley, wheatberries and quinoa, but right now, my go-to grain is farro. You can cook it from dried, or you can get packets of quick-cook farro at natural food stores that cooks up in just 8-10 minutes. You can’t beat that kind of speed for whole grains!
Creamy Vegan Asparagus Soup
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
- 1 pound asparagus, rinsed and chopped
- 1 quart vegetable stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
At least one hour before you plan on making soup, place the cashews in a heatproof bowl and cover with one cup of boiling water. Set aside and let them soften.
When you’re ready to make the soup, place the coconut oil in a 4 quart pot and place over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the leeks. Cook, stirring regularly, until the leeks have reduced in volume by half and are starting to brown.
Add asparagus and stir to combine with the leeks. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the asparagus begins to brown slightly. Add vegetable stock and stir. Reduce heat to medium and cover the pot. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the asparagus is fork tender. Remove from heat.
Pour cashews and their soaking liquid into the pitcher of a blender. Blend until the cashews are smooth and have formed a thick paste. Ladle the asparagus, leeks, and broth into the cashew cream and blend, slowing increasing the speed (and taking care not to burn yourself) until the soup is completely smooth.
Taste soup and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm.
Asparagus and Gruyere Tart
- 1 package puff pastry, defrosted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup minced shallots
- 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
- 1 pound asparagus, cleaned and chopped into 1½ inch lengths (approximately)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Place puff pastry on a flour-dusted countertop or large cutting board. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry into a rectangle approximately 10 by 16 inches (some packages will already be a rectangle, others you’ll need to pinch together). Transfer pastry to a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Spread the minced shallots over the pastry in a thin, evenly distributed layer. Top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (the salt helps draw out the moisture in the shallots, so that they soften instead of browning). Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the pastry just begins to brown and puff.
Once the pastry has baked for 6-8 minutes, remove it from the oven. Sprinkle the cheese and thyme over the shallots and spread the asparagus out over the tart base, making sure to leave a rim of uncovered crust all the way around. Return to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the edges of the pastry have browned and puffed up, and the asparagus is tender.
Let cool for 10-15 minutes prior to cutting.
Farro Salad with Asparagus and Feta
- 1 pound asparagus
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups cooked farro
- ½ red onion, minced
- 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Wash the asparagus well and trim off the woody ends. Place spears on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tips frizzle and the stems are fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool.
While asparagus cools to room temperature, combine the farro, red onion, and feta cheese in a medium bowl.
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt, and pepper. Shake until combined.
Once asparagus is cool enough to handle, chop into bite-sized pieces. Add to bowl. Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad and stir to combine.