Turn backyard-fresh spears into something special
An asparagus tart, ready to go into the oven. Photos by Ellen Ecker Ogden
Preparing asparagus: The spears can be tough and woody at the base. Use a knife to trim the tough part. You can also bend the stem until it snaps, but some cooks say it wastes too much of the spear.
By Ellen Ecker Ogden
LIKE members of an orchestra, the rosy knobs of rhubarb are pushing through the soil just as asparagus spears are emerging. The timing could not be better, especially when you add perennial herbs, such as chives and lovage. Ah, the rites of spring in the vegetable garden! If you’ve got an asparagus patch – or a good source at your farmers’ market – add these recipes to your springtime repertoire.
Savory Asparagus Tart
This flaky-crusted tart counters the earthy flavor of asparagus with the smooth tang of fresh ricotta and lemon zest.
- 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
- 1 pound fresh asparagus (12 – 16 spears), tough ends snapped off
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced (1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or Marsala cooking wine)
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 2 eggs
- Fresh chives, about 2 tablespoons chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon, about 1 tablespoon
What is a tart pan? A tart pan has fluted edges and a removable bottom, which makes it easier to transfer the tart to a serving platter or a cake stand. Tart pans come in many shapes and sizes, from round to rectangular to square, as well as those sized for individual tartlets.
Lightly oil a 10” round tart pan with a removable bottom. (For a different look, you can use a 7 x 10” rectangular pan.)
On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry so it is about 1” larger than the tart pan. Gently transfer the dough to the tart pan and line the bottom and sides. Trim excess from the edges by running the back of a spoon or a rolling pin over the rim. Refrigerate until ready to use.
In a steamer set over boiling water, steam the asparagus for 8 to10 minutes, or until the spears are crisp-tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spears to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, drain and blot with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over low heat until soft and translucent, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic, stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle the mixture with Balsamic vinegar, stirring to deglaze the pan. Turn off the heat.
In a large bowl, blend ricotta, cheddar, eggs, chives, and lemon zest. Remove the tart crust from the refrigerator. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the crust. Top with the onion mixture. Arrange the asparagus spears in a single layer over the top, alternating tops and bottoms.
Bake until the pastry is golden, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack for 5 minutes before cutting into serving pieces.
Drizzling asparagus with olive oil just before roasting
Roasted Asparagus with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Roasting brings out a different kind of flavor in asparagus. Sun-dried tomatoes contrast nicely with the caramelized green spears. This can be served as a side dish, or as a warm salad when served on a bed of tender lettuce with shredded radicchio. It’s a feast for the eyes.
- 1 pound (12- 16 spears) fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off
- 2-3 sun-dried tomatoes
- 1-2 shallots, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Lemon wedges, for serving
Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.
Reconstitute the sun-dried tomatoes by soaking them in boiling water for 10 minutes until soft; drain and pat dry. Chop and set aside.
In a shallow baking dish, spread the asparagus in a single layer. Sprinkle the tomatoes, shallots and oil evenly over the asparagus. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 10 minutes and turn the asparagus. Continue cooking until tender, about 5 minutes more. Serve hot with lemon wedges.
Asparagus with Lemon Chive Sauce
Because homegrown spears are rarely all the same size, try this method of removing the thinner pieces as they cook. If you have leftovers of this creamy sauce, it can be used as a dip, sandwich spread or topping for grilled fish.
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup yogurt
- Zest from 1 lemon, about 1 tablespoon
- Fresh chives, about 1 tablespoon chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 pound asparagus ( 12-16 spears), tough ends snapped off
In a medium bowl, mash together the cheese and yogurt until smooth. Whisk in the lemon zest, chives, cumin and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
Fill a large skillet with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus spears, laying them flat in the water. Cook until the spears are tender, when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 5 to 8 minutes depending on the size. As the spears become tender, transfer with tongs to a colander, and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.
Arrange equal portions of the asparagus on a serving platter, and top with a spoonful of sauce. Serve, passing the remaining sauce on the side.
Curried Asparagus Soup
You’ll find the Asian twist, with curry and coconut milk, a nice match for asparagus. At the end of cooking, a fistful of spinach brings out a bright green color, especially beautiful when garnished with asparagus tips and cream.
- 1-1/2 pounds fresh asparagus (about 16 – 20 spears), tough ends snapped off
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes (about 2 cups)
- 1 8-ounce can coconut milk
- 3 cups water
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
- 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for garnish
Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces, reserving some of the tips for garnish. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, stirring to cook until soft and translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the curry, brown sugar, and peanut butter, and stir with a wooden spoon, cooking until fragrant and combined, 1-2 minutes. Add the asparagus (except for reserved tips) and potatoes, and continue to stir, allowing the flavors to infuse, about 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk and water; simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the spinach during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Meanwhile, place the asparagus tips in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. Cover and steam until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
In a blender, puree the soup until smooth. You can also do this with an immersion blender. Return to pot, add cream and heat just until hot—do not boil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with a drizzle of cream and the reserved asparagus tips.