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Asparagus: Harbinger of Spring

by Bridget Charters

We are so lucky to live in and around the beautiful Puget Sound. I feel as though I need to say it each month. Spring is tricky because it can be lovely, warm and sunny, or we can face incredibly rainy and grey days. If the weather is the latter, then we take the sunny days when we can and bolt to the boat, giving it a quick wash and opening the hatches, or taking the boat for a quick spin. We never know what spring will bring and the “groundhog” doesn’t work for us boaters.

Corinthian Yacht Club’s Blakely Rock Race is the start of spring and the sailing season, and marks the end of winter racing around the Sound. It’s a longer race and I’m always happy if the sun is out, even if the temperatures are cold. A nice tradition at this race is the tossing of the daffodils at the turn at Blakely Rock to honor deceased sailing photographer Kelly O’Neil Henson. Seeing those flowers floating on the water is a true signal of spring! On the long beats, if the sun is out, so are other boaters, both sail and power, you can feel the joy.

Food-wise, I associate spring with asparagus! In the Pacific Northwest, homegrown asparagus does not appear until May, but asparagus from other parts show up in markets during April. Asparagus is harvested in various sizes, from fine pencil to very thick, extra-large stems. The Pacific Northwest market, which grows a lot of asparagus, runs about a month depending on temperatures.

We can thank the Romans for the cultivation of asparagus and with the demise of the Roman empire, the French picked up the torch for asparagus. The green stalk vegetable made its way throughout Europe, eventually arriving in the New World around the 1700s.

While not necessarily “nautical,” asparagus is delicious, does not require a lot of handling, and can be the main event or served alongside a steak. Asparagus is a handy vegetable for boats. Asparagus can be stored wrapped in paper towels, just trim the bottoms and keep wet while storing. Asparagus will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Cooking is easy: asparagus can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, baked, or sautéed. I like asparagus raw in salads, or added to a pasta dish, stir fry, or curry. My favorite way to cook asparagus to quickly blanch the spears in rapidly boiling salted water for a quick 5 minutes; then I allow it to cool on a plate. I drizzle it with garlic butter or a nice extra virgin olive oil and eat it with a pile of fresh mayonnaise.

Enjoy the spring, welcome the season with a trip to the boat to wash the deck, then finish the day with a nice meal on board of grilled steak and some lovely spring asparagus!

Asparagus Bruschetta

Asparagus Bruschetta

  • Extra virgin olive oil – something delicious
  • 2-3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Basil leaves – 1 per toast
  • Bundle of asparagus, grilled, roasted or blanched and cut into 1/2” pieces
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
  • Salt
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • Good Italian bread – preferably some type of large crusty bread

For the bread, slice into 1/2” thick pieces and toast on the grill or under a broiler on both sides, when the bread starts to color, turn, pull out/off when both sides are golden, rub lightly with a whole clove of garlic, drizzle with a delicious extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Make a salad of asparagus with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley. Then top the surface of the bread with basil leaves and a portion of the asparagus salad.

Spring Asparagus & Fennel Salad

  • 2 heads fennel bulb, trimmed at bottom and trimmed of greens
  • 1 head spring garlic, green
  • 12 spears thick asparagus
  • 2 lemons, Meyer or regular, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup picked Italian parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup picked tarragon leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper

Finely shave the fennel on a mandolin, hold in cold water if prepping early (then spin dry in a salad spinner). Shave the asparagus on the bias, slightly thicker than the fennel. Shave the garlic fine, vertically (your choice on how garlicky you would like the salad). Toss the vegetables together and dress with lemon juice, zest, oil and seasoning, add in the herbs, toss and serve immediately.

Spring Asparagus & Fennel Salad

Grilled Asparagus

Grilled Asparagus

  • 1-2 bunches asparagus
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 lemon, zested

Wash asparagus and grill while damp until the exterior is lightly charred and blistered. Remove to a serving platter; drizzle with oil, season with salt to taste and zest with lemon. Serve immediately!
Roasting option: Wash asparagus and snap off hard ends; toss in olive oil with a light coating then salt and roast in a 400-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

Baked Asparagus Bundles
With Parmesan & Prosciutto

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • White wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Trim the asparagus and blanch in rapidly boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and cool on a baking sheet. Once the asparagus has cooled, set aside and line the baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper. On a flat surface lay out the pieces of prosciutto, and pile 4-5 spears of asparagus on the center of the prosciutto. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Wrap the prosciutto around the spears and place on the oiled baking sheet. Drizzle all the bundles with white wine and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh cheese.

Baked Asparagus Bundles With Parmesan & Prosciutto

Risotto with Asparagus

Risotto with Asparagus

  • 1 lb. bag Carnaroli Rice (principato di Lucedio is the best, or Aquerello)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 stick butter, unsalted
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced fine
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano grated cheese
  • Italian parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • Grilled Asparagus (see recipe above)

Sweat the onion in a combination of olive oil and 3 tablespoons butter, do not color. Once the onion is translucent, add the rice and cook lightly, toasting the rice. Deglaze with the white wine and allow liquid to cook off. Gradually add the stock, ladle by ladle, keeping the rice under a thin veil of stock. Stirring constantly, continue to add stock and cook, as the rice begins to soften and becomes al dente, slow the addition of stock. Cook until the rice is tender but firm, another 3–5 minutes. Add the butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and parsley. Adjust the seasoning, remove from heat, cover and let rest for 5 minutes, add asparagus and sprinkle with parsley.

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