Jun 13, 2012

Asparagus: Always In Season In Hawaii

Sesame Asparagus with Bean Thread Noodles
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On Oahu, Twin Bridge Farms in Waialua and others on Kaua'i, Maui and the Big Island are supplying local restaurants, farmers' markets and select grocers with fresh organic asparagus. Asparagus is from the lily family along with onions, leeks and garlic. It is a perennial vegetable, with individual plants lasting 10-20 years. The mature plant looks like a small shrub with lacy, fern-like foliage. In cold climates, the top growth of the asparagus plant dies, then grows back in the spring. In warm, wet climates like Hawaii, the top foliage, does not die back and the plants grow all year around.

Asparagus is considered to be a "superfood" because it is low in calories and carbohydrates and rich in vitamins and minerals. Compared to other vegetables, it is relatively rich in protein. Asparagus is an excellent source of potassium, vitamins A, C and K, riboflavin, thiamine, folic acid and vitamin B6. Asparagus is also a very good source of dietary fiber, niacin, phosphorus, and iron and suitable for use in low-sodium diets. Asparagus contains only 43 calories per 1-cup serving.

How to Choose and Store: You may have noticed that asparagus spears seem to come in two thicknesses, thick or thin (there really isn't any difference, it's a matter of your preference), look for firm, smooth stalks with tightly closed tips. The color should be bright and the ends should not be limp or dry. To store asparagus, trim the ends and wrap the bunch in a damp paper towel. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for two to three days. Or place the stalks, cut ends down, in a vase holding an inch of water. Cover the tops with a plastic bag and refrigerate. This versatile vegetable can be steamed, boiled, baked, grilled and eaten raw. Here are a few asparagus recipes to enjoy:

Roasted Parmesan Asparagus 
with Poached Eggs and Prosciutto
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 thin prosciutto slices, thinly sliced crosswise
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
20 asparagus spears, trimmed
1 2-ounce piece Parmesan cheese, shaved into strips
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto; sauté until almost crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper towels. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss asparagus on sheet with remaining oil, then arrange close together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 12 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over; roast until melted, about 5 minutes. Divide among 4 plates. Cover to keep warm. Meanwhile, pour enough water into large skillet to reach depth of 2 inches. Add 1 teaspoon salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium. Crack 4 eggs, 1 at a time, into simmering water. Cook until whites are set but yolks are still soft, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, gently transfer 1 egg to atop asparagus on each plate. Sprinkle each serving with prosciutto and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.

Sesame Asparagus with Bean Thread Noodles
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1 1/2 inch pieces
4 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
a few drops chili oil (to taste)
3 2-ounce packages of bean thread noodles (rice noodles, I use Mum's brand)
3 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds

In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch (quickly cook) the asparagus until just tender (it should still have a snap), about 90 seconds. Remove asparagus with slotted spoon and quickly plunge them into a large bowl of ice water. Let cool for a few minutes, then drain and transfer onto paper towels to dry. Using the water you used to cook the asparagus, bring back to a boil then add bean thread noodles. Cook for 2 minutes (do not overcook). Drain noodles, then chop into 2" chunks and set aside.

In medium-sized bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and chili oil. Add asparagus and gently toss to coat. Divide noodles among 8 small bowls. Place coated asparagus on top of noodles. Pour sauce from asparagus bowl on top of each serving. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top. Serve at room temperature. Makes 8 appetizers.

Black Bean Asparagus with Beef
3/4 pound sirloin steak (London broil), thinly sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons Chinese salted black beans
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh garlic
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup chicken broth
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the beef across the grain into thin strips about 1 1/2 inches long. Add the marinade ingredients - the soy sauce, rice wine or dry sherry, 3/4 teaspoon sugar, Asian sesame oil, and cornstarch - one at a time, adding the cornstarch last (use your fingers to rub it in). Marinate the beef for 15 - 30 minutes.

Remove and discard the woody ends of the asparagus, then cut the asparagus on the diagonal into roughly 2 inch slices. Rinse the black beans to remove excess salt. Mash the beans with the side of a cleaver or the back of a spoon and chop. In a small bowl, stir together the chopped beans and garlic with a small amount of water. Heat the wok and add 1 cup oil. When the oil is medium-hot (between 300˚ and 325˚F.), add the beef. Blanch the beef by letting it lay flat for a few seconds, and then stirring to separate the pieces. Remove the beef when it changes color and is nearly cooked (the entire process takes about 1 minute). Remove the beef from the wok and drain. Wipe out the wok with paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon oil. When the oil is hot, add the bean/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds until aromatic. Add the asparagus. Stir briefly, then add a pinch of salt, sugar, and the chicken broth. Cover and cook until asparagus is tender crisp (about 3 minutes). Add the beef back into the pan. Season with black pepper. Stir briefly and serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Salmon with Roasted Asparagus 
and Lemon-Caper Sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 1/2-pound skinless salmon fillet (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk first 6 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut three 1/2-inch-deep slits crosswise in top of salmon (as if dividing into 4 equal pieces but do not cut through). Arrange asparagus in even layer on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and turn to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place salmon atop asparagus; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until salmon is just opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Transfer asparagus and salmon to platter. Spoon sauce over salmon. Cut into 4 pieces along slits and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Asparagus with Gremolata Butter
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

Cook asparagus in large pot of boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water to cool quickly, and drain again. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Pat dry; wrap in paper towels, then plastic, and refrigerate. Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lemon peel and garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add asparagus and toss to coat. Sprinkle lemon juice over. Sauté until asparagus is heated through and coated with butter sauce, about 3 minutes. Season asparagus with salt and pepper. Transfer to platter. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Pickled Asparagus with Garlic
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
1 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 large glass jar

Wash and dry 1 1/2 pounds of fresh asparagus, trim off the tough, fibrous ends, and arrange them vertically in a large glass jar so that the tips are about 1/2 inch below the lid. In a pot, mix together 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of white wine vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of salt, 6 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly lengthwise, 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds, and 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds, and bring the mixture to a boil. The hot liquid is poured over the fresh asparagus in the jar. The entire jar is then left to cool to room temperature, then refrigerated, with the lid on, for 48 hours. (Thicker asparagus would take longer, possibly up to 3 days.) Imagine one or two of these in a cold bloody mary.

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