Advice From A Vegetable Butcher: What To Do With Spring Asparagus

Photo: Stocksy

In Cara Mangini's new book, The Vegetable Butcher, she alphabetically walks us through the wide world of vegetables and gives tips on how to cut, cook, and eat them to bring out all their best qualities.

Today, we're sharing her asparagus tutorial. Below you'll learn the myriad ways you can prepare it, plus an irresistible springtime sandwich recipe with asparagus as the star.

Blanching

This method is ideal when you want asparagus to maintain a slight crunch (for dunking into dips and spreads, for example).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, set up a large bowl of ice water. Add trimmed green or purple asparagus spears or pieces to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, until tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minutes depending on their size. (Taste a piece to assess its texture, but make sure not to overcook.)

Use tongs or a spider to carefully remove the asparagus from the pot and immerse them in the ice water, then drain and pat dry.

Grilling

Brush trimmed green or purple asparagus spears with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat, turning once, until tender and lightly marked by the grill, 2 to 5 minutes on each side depending on thickness. (Do not grill pencil-thin asparagus—it will burn.)

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Raw

Use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler to shave trimmed green or purple asparagus spears lengthwise into long, skinny ribbons. Alternatively, cut them into ⅛-inch-thick coins. Toss with freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Roasting

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss trimmed green or purple asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Roast the asparagus until tender, 10 to 15 minutes depending on their size.

Pan-roasting

Heat olive oil or a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add trimmed whole or cut green or purple asparagus spears, season with salt to taste, and cook over medium-high heat until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Turn or stir the asparagus, add a bit more oil or butter, cover, and cook, until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

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Steaming

For green or purple asparagus, fill a skillet with water to a depth of ¼ inch. Add the asparagus, cover, and cook until tender-crisp, 4 to 5 minutes for spears less than ½ inch in diameter, 5 to 6 minutes for jumbo asparagus.

For white asparagus, place in a ½ inch of water and steam until tender, 8 to 15 minutes, depending on size; toss gently with herb butter.

Grilled asparagus, Taleggio & fried-egg panini

Photo: The Vegetable Butcher

This is a sexy springtime sandwich that you should not miss. Marinate asparagus spears in lemon, olive oil, and herbs, and grill them on a grill pan until they take on heady marks of heat and licks of smoke.

Then press them between slices of crusty bread with an oozy fried egg with creamy yolk, gooey Taleggio cheese, and spicy arugula. The sandwich tastes just as decadent and delicious as it sounds, especially with a crisp Vermentino or a dry rosé (for me, absolutely required).

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra as needed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 8 small to medium asparagus spears (see Notes), trimmed
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 slices (½ inch each) pain au levain or sourdough bread (or a crusty boule with a thick, dense crumb)
  • 4 ounces Taleggio cheese
  • 1 cup baby arugula

1. Heat a grill pan (or a large skillet) over medium-high heat.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice and zest, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ⅛ teaspoon of pepper, olive oil, chives, and mint in a large bowl. Add the asparagus and toss until the spears are evenly coated.

3. Use tongs to lift the asparagus spears from the marinade and transfer them to the hot grill pan. Grill the spears, turning as needed to ensure they cook evenly, until they become golden on the outside and are tender through the center but still slightly crisp, 2 to 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness.

Pull the asparagus from the pan and toss them back in the marinade. Let them stand at room temperature. (Alternatively, store cooled asparagus and marinate in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

4. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium-size nonstick skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat the bottom and crack the eggs into the skillet one at a time (you can crack them into small bowls first if you prefer). Season the eggs lightly with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny, about 2 minutes. For slightly firmer yolks, carefully flip the eggs with a spatula and let them cook to your liking. Transfer the eggs to a plate and set aside.

5. Melt the butter in the same nonstick skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan to coat the bottom with the butter and any remaining oil, and place the bread in the skillet. Pull apart the Taleggio and dot each piece of bread with 3 to 4 small pieces, making sure to spread them out. Cook, uncovered, until the cheese melts, 3 to 4 minutes.

6. To assemble the sandwiches, divide the asparagus spears, fried eggs, and arugula between 2 pieces of the bread. Drizzle the other 2 pieces of bread with any remaining marinade and herbs, and use them to top the stacked pieces, cheese side down. Gently press the sandwiches together with an offset spatula. Cut the sandwiches in half with a sharp chef’s knife or serrated knife, and transfer them to individual serving plates immediately.

Notes: Avoid large or jumbo asparagus spears (they're too thick for this sandwich) or cut them in half lengthwise if needed. Do not use pencil-thin asparagus, as they tend to burn on a grill pan, and they do not provide a meaty bite.

If you don’t own a grill pan or skillet, you can roast the asparagus on a baking sheet or grill the asparagus on an outdoor grill over medium heat, following the same procedure above.

Excerpted from The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini

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