Every Spring tender asparagus spears emerge out of the dirt, like miniature trees from an underground world. It is so cool how the spears seem to pop up out of nothing and creep upward toward the sun. It is a wonder to me how these funny looking green stalks grow.
Up until a few years ago, I had no clue about their growth habit until I saw them sprouting in my sister’s garden. Also, the spears don’t just die away after weeks of cutting them back. Eventually, the remaining tips of the spears will loosen and sprout forth 4 to 6 foot feathery fronds for the remaining summer. Fortunately, come the following Spring, this miracle occurs again and asparagus spears emerge for another season.
If an opportunity comes your way, eating freshly picked asparagus is a special treat. Even if you do not like asparagus, you might be pleasantly surprised once you have tasted the newly picked spears. It is a wonder how different freshly grown asparagus tastes compared to the store-bought kind. There is a slightly bitter, slightly sweet, distinctive greenish earthy flavor. Honestly, any vegetable straight from a garden tastes better because it is fresher and given more TLC. I am always grateful for the garden gifts from my sister and friends.
Like a lot of vegetables, asparagus is very easy to prepare and does not require a detailed recipe to enjoy. The most important consideration is to not over cook them. The total amount of cooking time will depend on how thick the spears are, and your method of cooking. Some of my favorite ways to cook asparagus are: simmering, braising, roasting, and grilling. All methods produce good results. Ultimately, no matter which way you want to prepare them, just cook them until they are tender and have a slight crispness when you bite into one.
How to Prep Asparagus
If you have never made asparagus here are some tips. There is some debate about how to prep asparagus. Should you peel them? Do the ends need trimming? Do you need a fancy asparagus steamer to make them? First, no fancy steamer pot required. I am not a big gadget person and work very hard to buy kitchen items that have more than one purpose. Steaming is a great way to cook asparagus and can effectively be done without an asparagus steamer in a microwave oven.
Trimming off the woody ends is a good idea, especially for the thicker stalks. Thin stalks don’t always need to be trimmed, but the thick ones do. I usually hold the bottom of a spear with one hand and place the other hand near the center of the stalk, then bend the two points downwards. The theory is asparagus will break at the place where the woody tip ends. This sounds good in theory, but it does not work perfectly all the time. Unfortunately, sometimes bending the stalk breaks off tender and edible sections.
Another trimming method is, to line the asparagus up end to end and cut off the ends about 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches from the bottom. You can see a change in color in the spear as they it gets less woody. The woody part will be whiter in color. Additionally, you can feel with your fingertips where the woody part ends. The woody part will be harder and denser.
To peel or not to peel, that is the question. My answer is sometimes I peel the spears, sometimes I don’t. There is no particular reason for my decision and most of the time I leave the spears alone. Honestly, it depends on how much time I have or how fancy I want to be. If you have older and fatter asparagus, the skin is tougher and not as pleasant to eat. Whereas the thinner stalks have tender skin and easier to eat.
To peel the skin, hold the asparagus near the tip in your non-active hand with the cut end pointing away from you. Hold the vegetable peeler in the other hand and begin in a downward motion, peeling off the skin. Start about a third of the way down from the tip and move to the bottom. You don’t want to peel off a lot of the spear, only the thin layer of skin.
When I am in a hurry or preoccupied with another part of the meal, I like to simmer asparagus for around 4 minutes in salted boiling water. Once drained, I give them a light coating of olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and add minced herbs and/or lemon zest. It is as easy as that. You can add lemon juice or any acid, but it will change the color from bright green to khaki green.
There are times when I want to give my vegetables some extra pizzazz as a part of a composed meal. Asparagus with orange mayonnaise dressing adds pizzazz and offers an unexpected flavor with your asparagus and dinner. It is perfect for asparagus served at room temperature or cold. This recipe is easily adaptable, just add the amount of orange juice to give your mayonnaise the consistently and orange flavor that you want. Additionally, it is easy to prepare a head of time and If you own an immersion blender, even easier to make.
Homemade mayonnaise is a new discovery of mine. I love how light the flavor is. Some recipes call for extra virgin olive oil, but I find that it has too strong of a flavor so I use olive oil instead. If you do not have a blender, food processor or immersion blender, you can still make mayonnaise the old-fashioned way. Use a sturdy bowl, a good wire whisk, and a lot of continuous whisking by hand power. I think it is worth it.
This recipe is a combo of two. I used J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s technique for quick homemade mayonnaise using an immersion blender. His technique has produced the most consistent results for me. I have made mayonnaise with my food processor, but the success depends on how slowly the oil drips into the eggs while the machine is running.
The orange mayonnaise comes from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was intrigued with her suggestion to use this with asparagus and wanted to try it out. I love her work and she is a great resource for vegetarian cooking.
As usual, Deborah Madison is right on. The orange mayonnaise brings a delicate and unexpected fruity orange flavor with the asparagus. She also recommends using the orange mayonnaise with broccoli, fennel, and cauliflower.
Asparagus with Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
For the Asparagus
- 1 pound asparagus cleaned and woody ends trimmed
- Kosher salt
Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
- 1 cup homemade mayonnaise
- zest from half an orange
- 4 Tbs freshly squeezed orange juice or more to taste
Mayonnaise - makes 2 cups
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 Tbs lemon juice
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- One small clove garlic finely minced or grated with a microplane (optional)
- pinch of Kosher salt
- 1-2 Tbs water
- 1 cup of canola oil
- 1 cup olive oil
Trim the asparagus as needed. If you peel them, hold each asparagus at the tip and beginning around a third of the way down, gently peel off the thin skin with a vegetable peeler. Peel down lengthwise along the steam and work your way around.
Prepare an ice bath for the asparagus. Fill a medium bowl part way with ice and add water to cover. Set the bowl aside near the stove.
Put water in a shallow sauce pan and add a pinch of kosher salt. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a bowl. Add the trimmed asparagus and simmer in the boiling water about 4 minutes. The total cooking time will depend on how thick the asparagus spears are. The asparagus should be tender, but still have some crispness and look bright green.
Remove the asparagus with tongs or a spider, and place in the ice bath to stop the cooking and keep the asparagus bright green.
Once cooled, remove the asparagus from the ice bath and dry on clean kitchen towel. (Ahead of time note, wrap the asparagus in a paper towel and place in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator until you need them. Eat the asparagus the same day you cook them.
Immersion blender method by Kenji Lopez-Alt: Use a tall cup just large enough for the immersion blender head to fit in, place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, salt, and one tablespoon of water inside the cup. Slowly add the canola oil to the eggs then slide the head of the immersion blender inside the cup until it rests on the bottom. Hold onto the cup with one hand and turn on the immersion blender. The egg and oil will begin to emulsify. As the oil get pulled down to the bottom, very slowly raise the immersion blender up. You will see the mayonnaise begin to form and the oil being sucked towards to bottom and emulsify.
Once all the oil has emulsified, turn off the immersion blender and scrape out with a rubber spatula, the mayonnaise into a small mixing bowl large enough to whisk in the remaining oil. Hold the bowl steady with your inactive hand and whisk up the mayonnaise. Drizzle in the olive oil small amounts at a time, about a tablespoon, into the mayonnaise, and vigorously whisk the mayonnaise to incorporate the olive oil. Continue to whisk in the olive oil in small increments until all the oil is added. The mayonnaise will last for two weeks in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Orange Mayonnaise Dressing
Add one cup of homemade mayonnaise to a small mixing bowl. Add the orange zest and 2 tablespoons of the orange juice. Whisk all the ingredients together. Taste the mayonnaise and add more orange juice, one tablespoon at a time until you get the right flavor and consistency you want. The orange mayonnaise will last for about one week in the refrigerator.
When done, spoon into a small serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve the asparagus.
Arrange the asparagus on a serving plate and drizzle the orange mayonnaise across the asparagus.
Homemade mayonnaise in a blender or food processor.
Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, pinch of salt, garlic (if using), and one tablespoon of water into the bowl of your appliance. Mix together. With the motor running very slowly add the canola oil through the hole of the feed tube. Add the olive oil by hand the same way as described for the immersion blender technique.
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