Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May 17, 2018 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Asparagus

Cooking With This Week’s Box: 

Welcome back for another week of delicious spring cooking!  I want to start by thanking all of the members who have been posting their recipes and pictures in the Facebook Group.  You’ve been making some delicious creations and I appreciate the recipes you’re sharing with other members! 

So this week’s main focus is Asparagus!  In addition to the two recipes included with this week’s newsletter (see below), Food52 also has an interesting and diverse collection of asparagus recipes.  Asparagus is truly one of nature’s fast food recipes, so at the very least just give it a quick saute and serve it with your dinner. 

Sadly, this is our last week for ramps.  If you haven’t made Ramp Pesto or Ramp Butter yet, this might be the week to do so.  Both of these can be eaten when freshly made or you can freeze them in small portions and pull them out later in the year.  Ramp pesto is delicious when simply tossed with pasta for a quick meal and ramp butter is good on bread, steak and mashed potatoes. 

If this is your first time working with nettles this week, don’t be intimidated or afraid.  Check out last week’s vegetable feature on our blog which will guide you in handling them and includes a delicious recipe for Nettle & Mushroom Pizza with Ramp Cream.  One of our members also shared this recipe for a Crustless Spinach & Feta Pie that some members made using nettles instead of spinach!  What a great suggestion!

This week I’m going to make this Smoked Trout Spread using chives as the herb of choice.  This will be great spread on a bagel for lunch or on crackers for a little afternoon snack.  Kelly also reminded me that I need to make our annual batch of Chive & Parmesan Popcorn while chives are in season!

Lastly, we’re excited to be able to include rhubarb in this week’s box.  While rhubarb may be used in both sweet and savory ways, I always need to squeeze in a dessert or two during rhubarb season so I’m starting on the sweet side this week.  I found a recipe for Rhubarb Picnic Bars that I’m going to make for our market crew snack this weekend.  On the same website there’s also a recipe for Rhubarb Spice Cake that looks really good!

Have a great week and enjoy the last of the ramps and the first of the asparagus.  Next week we are looking forward to sending some gorgeous heads of lettuce along with the first radishes of the season!—Chef Andrea

Featured Vegetable: Asparagus 

“Asparagus signifies spring regardless of the weather…..The closer to you asparagus is grown, the better it is.”  This is an excerpt from vegetable chef expert, Deborah Madison, in the introduction for Asparagus in her book, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Asparagus is a perennial crop that we rely on in the spring before other spring planted vegetables are ready.  It is very weather dependent and it’s hard to predict when asparagus season will start.  Once it does start producing, it responds dramatically to temperature.  If you have a hot day, yields may double or triple compared to a colder day.  We usually harvest at least three times a week, however sometimes we pick five to six days a week when it’s in peak production.   Typically we see a harvest window of about 5 weeks, so pace yourself and plan out all the recipes you want to make!

As a perennial crop, it takes about three years to establish a field.  During the first few years after asparagus crowns are planted, the goal is to build fertility in the field, provide adequate moisture, and allow the plant to capture solar energy and store it in the roots.  Once we do start harvesting, we continue to focus on making sure there is enough fertility in the field as well as moisture. We also focus on weed control, which is very important in a field that will have the same crop for multiple growing seasons.  In the world of conventional asparagus production, asparagus fields are often bare because they are sprayed with herbicide to keep weeds under control.  Our asparagus fields are actually green because we employ a method of cover crops and hand weeding to control weeds instead of using chemicals.  We sometimes also use mechanical cultivation, but the risk of damaging the root system is pretty great so we’re limited with this technique.  While cover crops help to build soil fertility and help to decrease weed pressure, they also compete to a certain extent with the asparagus.  We do also walk the fields and pull weeds by hand.  As you can see, asparagus can be a labor-intensive and challenging crop to maintain!  Our cost of production is greater than conventional production, so if you ever wonder why our price might be higher than other growers, this is why. 

Asparagus may be eaten raw, although it’s most often cooked.  It may be steamed, boiled, sautéed or roasted.  The lower portion of the stem may be a little tough.  If this is the case simply snap or cut that portion off.  You can save these pieces and use them to flavor vegetable stock.  Be careful not to overcook asparagus or it will become soft, mushy and a dull olive green color.  Cook it just until it’s bright green and tender.  If you are boiling or steaming it, either serve it immediately or put it in cold iced water to stop the cooking process. 

Asparagus pairs well with other spring vegetables including ramps, mushrooms, green garlic and green onions and peas.  It’s also often served with lemon, cheese, cream, eggs, mint, parsley, chives, dill, bacon, pancetta.  Many times I never get past simply roasting asparagus as it is good when just eaten in this simple form.  It is also delicious in a quiche, frittata, scrambled eggs, risotto, or savory tarts. 

We hope you enjoy the bounty of this year’s asparagus harvest and eat it to your heart’s content.  Remember, we’ll only have it for a few more weeks!

Asparagus and White Bean Salad with Feta and Lemon Dressing 

Yield:  2 servings as a main dish or 4 servings as a side dish

“Served with crusty bread, this salad makes a terrific meal.  White beans provide a delectable hearty-tenderness, without overwhelming the delicate asparagus.  Tangy feta, zesty lemon, and a touch of mint give this salad a bright and refreshing flavor.”

1 pound asparagus, cut on an angle in 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp chopped fresh mint
½ tsp freshly grated lemon zest
¼ tsp salt
⅛  tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked or canned white beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup thinly sliced radishes
2 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions (may substitute green garlic or ramps)
  1. Place the asparagus in a steamer basket, set over 1 ½ inches boiling water, and cover.  Steam until the spears are tender-firm, 4 to 7 minutes depending on the thickness.  Drain and place in an ice water bath (or under cold, running water) for a moment to stop the cooking. (Chef Andrea Note:  You may also roast asparagus.  Lay the spears on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and then roll the spears with your hand to coat them with the oil.  Roast for 10-12 minutes in a 350°F oven.  Remove and cool before cutting into smaller pieces and adding to the salad)
  2.  Put the olive oil, lemon juice, fresh mint, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until well combined.  Drain asparagus.
  3. Combine the beans, feta, radishes, and scallions in a large bowl.  Add the asparagus pieces.  Pour on the dressing and gently toss.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  (Chef Andrea Note:  You can turn also add a can of tuna, poached salmon or cooked chicken to this salad and serve it as a main dish.)
This recipe is featured in Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables, by our friend, Farmer John Peterson.

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus 

“Whenever people ask what they can make a lot of easily and ahead of time for a party, this is what I suggest.  It’s endlessly versatile-you can vary the vegetable to go with the season.”—Chef Deborah Madison in The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Serves 6 to 8


                ¼ cup light sesame oil
                1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
                7 Tbsp soy sauce
                3 Tbsp Chinese black or balsamic vinegar
                3 ½ Tbsp dark brown sugar
                2 tsp sea salt
                2 tsp chili oil
                1 Tbsp minced ginger
                1 clove garlic, finely chopped
                ¼ cup chopped cilantro

Noodles and Asparagus

                2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
                1 (14-ounce) package thin Chinses egg noodles or rice noodles
                10 green onions, including the firm greens, thinly sliced (may substitute ramps)
                ¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted until lightly browned

  1. Mix the marinade ingredients together, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt and the asparagus.  Cook until bright green and tender but still firm, just a few minutes.  Scoop the asparagus out, rinse it under cold water, and set on a towel to dry.
  3. Pull the noodles apart with your fingers, add them to the boiling water, and give them a quick stir.  Boil until tender but not overly soft, tasting them often as they cook.  It should take only a few minutes.  Pour the noodles into a colander and immediately rinse under cold water.  Shake off the excess water.
  4. Toss the noodles with all the marinade and most of the onions, sesame seeds, and asparagus.  Mound them in a bowl or on a platter, then garnish with the remaining asparagus, onions, and sesame seeds.

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