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TIP OF THE DAY: Spring Peas, Use ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em

Green Pea Potstickers

Spring Peas

Edamame

Spring Tartine

[1] Recipe #1, Spring pea dumplings (photo courtesy Hannah Kaminsky | Bittersweet Blog. [2] Spring peas (photo courtesy Good Eggs). [3] Edamame (photo courtesy Burpee). [4] Recipe #2, a tartine (open face sandwich) with spring peas and other spring ingredients from Chef Alain Ducasse (photo courtesy All My Chefs).

 

Spring pea season is fleeting. Enjoy as much of the tender green nuggets as you can: raw in salads or for snacking; or lightly steamed in recipes.

Spring peas are also known as English peas and garden peas.

At breakfast—the meal least likely to include spring peas—you can use them to garnish eggs, avocado toast, or a bagel with cream cheese.

You can toss raw or cooked peas into plain Greek yogurt. Use them as a garnish, or mash them and stir them in as you would preserves.

Moving on to snacks and appetizers: Here are three tasty recipes for appetizers, first courses or snacking. For a special main course, check out this innovative approach to surf and turf: Squid With Bacon & Spring Peas.

Here are more ways to use spring peas, and the history of peas.
 
 
RECIPE #1: SPRING PEA OR EDAMAME POTSTICKERS

Hannah Kaminsky adapted her easy edamame potstickers recipe to showcase spring peas. She mixes the legumes with hummus for extra protein, although you can skip the hummus and just fill the dumplings with peas).

Hannah notes:

“General folding advice still stands as a good guideline to follow when wrapping things up, but once you get those papery thin skins to stick, you’re pretty much golden.

If you’re less confident in your dumpling prowess, cut yourself a break and fold square dumpling wrappers in half instead. You’ll still get neat little triangles.”

If celebrate Purim, you can serve these as savory Haman’s Hats.

Ingredients For 15 Dumplings

  • 1 cup shelled spring peas or edamame
  • 1/3 cup edamame/pea hummus (mash them into regular hummus, to taste)
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce, plus more for dipping
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Savoy cabbage
  • 15 (3-inch) round wonton skins or gyoza wrappers*
  •  
    Plus

  • Steaming basket or rack
  •  
    Preparation

    1. SET UP the steaming apparatus: Line a bamboo steamer or metal steam rack with leaves of savoy cabbage to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom (and eat it afterward). Place the steamer in a large pot with water and heat the water to boiling; then reduce to simmering. Meanwhile…

    2. MIX together the shelled edamame, hummus, scallion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cumin, stirring thoroughly. Lay the dumpling wrappers on your work surface and place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Run a lightly moistened finger around the entire perimeter and bring the sides together, forming a triangle. Tightly crimp the corners together with a firm pinch.

    3. PLACE the dumplings on the cabbage leaves and cover the steamer or pot. Steam for 2 to 4 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent. Serve immediately, with additional soy sauce for dipping if desired.

    ________________

    *You can typically find these either in the produce section near the tofu, or in the freezer aisle with other Asian ingredients.
     
    RECIPE #2: SPRING TARTINE

    This recipe, courtesy of All My Chefs, is from the great Alain Ducasse.

    It requires no particular cooking technique…or even cooking, except for blanching the asparagus and green beans. Otherwise, you just slice and assemble.

    Serve them as a snack, a first course, or with a glass of wine.

    Here’s more about tartines, French for open-face sandwiches.

    This recipe was originally published in “Nature By Alain Ducasse” (Éditions Alain Ducasse).

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 16 small green asparagus
  • A good handful† peas
  • About 10 radishes, washed and peeled
  • 1/4 fennel bulb, rinsed
  • About 20 cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • A handful wild arugula, rinsed, patted dry, stalks removed (you can save them for salads)
  • 4 slices multigrain or whole wheat bread
  • 5-1/2 ounces (100g) Saint-Moret** or similar cream cheese
  • 1-1/2 ounces (40g) grated parmesan cheese
  • Sea salt or flake salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BRING a saucepan of salted water to a boil, and prepare a bowl with water and ice cubes.

    2. CUT the tips of the asparagus into approximately 2 inch (5-6 cm) pieces. Rinse and immerse in the boiling water with the peas.

    3. DRAIN and immediately plunge them into the ice water to keep their color. Leave for 2 minutes, then drain with a slotted spoon and lay on a dry tea towel. (TIP: We put the vegetables into a strainer. It’s easy to lift the strainer to drain, then plunge it into the ice bath.)

    4. SLICE thee radishes into fine rounds (about 3 mm) with a mandoline (we used a knife). Slice the fennel into thin slivers of the same size.

    5. ASSEMBLE: Spread the bread with cream cheese and arrange the vegetables on top. Sprinkle with parmesan, a bit of crunchy salt and some pepper.

    ________________

    **Saint-Môret is the leading natural fresh cheese in France. While it has a different flavor and texture from American cream cheese, it is the closest comparison. We actually used spreadable goat cheese: We love the extra tang.

     

    RECIPE #3: SPRING PEAS & BURRATA SALAD

    We adapted this recipe from Julie Andrews, The Gourmet RD. It takes just 10 minutes to prep. We could eat it every day.

    Her recipe uses sugar snap peas. We added spring peas as well.

    You can eat the pods (shells) of sugar snap peas, but it depends on the age of the pea. Older sugar snap peas tend to be more fibrous, making the pod hard to chew. Eat one, then decide.

    Unlike sugar snap peas or snow peas, the fibrous pods of English peas cannot be eaten—although they can be saved and used in a vegetable stock (freeze until needed).

    TIPS:

  • Shell spring peas immediately before cooking. Break off the stem and pull the fibrous string down the length of the pod.
  • If you can’t find burrata (we get ours at Trader Joe’s), use a mozzarella ball. And…we serve 1/2 ball with each salad.
  • If you have fresh tarragon on hand, toss in some leaves.
  • As a change, we like to substitute balsamic vinegar for the honey.
  •  
    Ingredients For 4 First Courses

  • 1 medium lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cups fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed, strings removed
  • 1 cup green beans, trimmed
  • 1 cup carrots (thinly sliced
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 ball burrata (substitute fresh mozzarella)
  • 1/2 cups pistachios (roughly chopped
  • For serving: toasted sourdough bread
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Spring Peas Salad

    Burrata

    [5] Recipe #3: burrata salad—note that you can’t eat the shells of spring peas (photo courtesy The Gourmet RD). [6] Be prepared when you cut open a burrata: The creamy insides will spill out (photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese).

     
    1. WHISK together fresh lemon zest and juice, honey, olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning, as necessary.

    2. ADD the peas, green beans, carrots, arugula, basil and mint to the bowl, and toss with the dressing.

    3. QUARTER or halve the ball of burrata and arrange on a platter. Top with salad, sprinkle with additional coarse salt and ground black pepper, and garnish with pistachios.
     
     
    MORE BURRATA

    Here are two more burrata salad recipes and a dessert burrata recipe.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Get Creative With A Basic Recipe

    Causa Morada Recipe

    Causa Morada Recipe

    Causa Morada Recipe

    Causa Morada Croquettes

    Causa Morada Appetizer

    [1] Glamorizing potatoes and chicken salad. Here’s the recipe from Potato Goodness. [2] Don’t feel like stacking? Just place the ingredients on a plate, as in this recipe from Live Naturally Magazine. Or, layer them in a glass dish. [3] At Raymi Peruvian restaurant in New York City, a Japanese accent is added via julienned nori (dried seaweed sheets), togarashi mayo for the chicken salad, and ponzu syrup. Here’s the recipe via Star Chefs [4] Croquettes: the chicken is inside! See the recipe at Sweet Cakes Toronto. [5] Turned into an appetizer with a pretzel stick, at Piscomar restaurant in Madrid.

     

    Causa morada is a South American classic, a layered dish of potato-and-chicken salad. (The fancy layering in Photo #1 is restaurant style. At home, layering is more casual.)

    It is served cold (room temperature) as an appetizer or as a lunch entrée.

    Make the mashed potatoes with Purple Peruvians, and you’ve got a dish that screams “Easter week!”

    You can substitute other salads (crab, egg, shrimp, tuna) and add other touches as you wish. We’ve included some variations below.

    The name of the dish comes from the Quechua* word kausay, which means “life” or “sustenance of life.” Potatoes originated in Peru and number hundreds of cultivars. They were the sustenance of life in pre-Hispanic Peru, as rice was in China.

    Morada means purple, referring to the purple potatoes. As you can see in Photo #7 below, there are also blue potatoes.

    The original dish was simply boiled potatoes eaten with slices of aji amarillo (the principal Peruvian chili). Meat was scarce in the Andes Mountains. Much of the cuisine was vegetarian.

    This most basic recipe of boiled potatoes illustrates today’s tip: The simplest foods can be made more flavorful and appealing, with a few twists.

    The recipe below is Adina, a modern Peruvian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Peruvian cuisine is an interesting fusion, not just of Spanish and Inca cuisines, but of Japanese cuisine, from the immigration of Japanese laborers at the turn of the [20th] century. You’ll see how Japanese touches grace some of the variations.

    This recipe came to us via Potato Goodness, the recipe website of Potatoes USA, the nation’s potato marketing and research organization.
     
    RECIPE: CAUSA MORADA, PERUVIAN CHICKEN SALAD

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds purple potatoes
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup aji amarillo purée†
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup minced celery
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 1-1/2 cups semi-ripe avocados, thinly sliced
  • Garnish: spicy sprouts, such as daikon (radish) or clover
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until very tender, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

    2. PEEL the potatoes and pass through a food mill or ricer (or simply mash very finely) into a large bowl. Knead lightly with gloved‡ hands, slowly drizzling in oil, as needed, to a dough-like consistency. Add the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.

    3. PLACE the chicken, onion, carrot and mint into a large saucepan, adding just enough water to cover. Bring to a slow boil. Cook until the chicken is fork tender and can be pulled apart, about 20 minutes.

    4. TRANSFER the chicken to a medium bowl. Once cool enough to handle, shred with fingers or a fork. Mix in the mayonnaise, aji amarillo, celery, and red onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

    5a. For individual servings, layer ring molds with potato mixture, then chicken mixture, then potato mixture. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

    5b: For a single dish, use a 2-quart glass casserole. Layer the ingredients, as above. Refrigerate until ready to serve; let warm to room temperature first, as desired.

     

    HOW TO CHANGE IT

    Color: Purple or blue potatoes add so much more punch to Causa Morada than white varieties. As another example, how about a yellow gazpacho, using yellow tomatoes and bell peppers instead of the conventional red?

    Size: Turn a full dish or side into an appetizer: Causa Morada bites (chicken salad stuffed into baby potatoes) or gazpacho shots? Or gazpacho sorbet?

    Format: Change the shape and purpose, like the plated Causa Morada in photo #2, the croquettes in Photo #4, and the appetizers in Photo #5. Can you turn it into a drink? You can make a Caprese Cocktail by reformatting the ingredients of Caprese Salad: a mix of tomato and lettuce juices, with a garnish of mozzarella balls on a pick.

    Another ingredient: The avocado in Photo #1 adds new personality to the dish. What about a surf and turf variation, adding something from the sea (scallops? shrimp?).

    Crunch: If the dish has no crunch, add some. Anything from a side of jicama batons or radish slices, to an artisan cracker or potato plantain chip on top, will do the trick. One of our secrets: Japanese rice cracker snack mix, which is also one of our favorite things to serve with wine and cocktails.

    Sweetness: Add some fruit, minced into the chicken salad, grilled as an extra layer or garnish, or pureéd into a sauce.

    Salty: Blend in olives or capers, for example.

    Condiments: Add chutney; cornichons or gherkins; pickled vegetables; or relish to the plate.

    Vegetables: For Causa Morada, some red color cherry or grape tomatoes, or some texture a bit of frisée or arugula salad.

    Sauce: There are countless types of sauces for every dish. Sweet, savory, herbal, matching, contrasting.

    Bread: Could bread or crackers enhance the dish? For example, Causa Morada could be served with toasts or flatbread on which to spread the soft layers. Consider what would enhance your recipe: anything from garlic crostini (garlic bread) to sesame breadsticks to

    Garnish: Garnish can change the personality of a dish. Imagine Causa Morada topped julienned nori (photo #3), honey peanuts, diced melon, shoestring fried onions. For fun: a few Goldfish?

    ________________

    *Quechua is the language of the Incas. It is still spoken by their ancestors in the Andes Mountains.

    †You can substitute other fresh chile. If you don’t want to take the time to purée the chile, just add minced pieces to the chicken salad.

     

    Purple Peruvian Potatoes

    Blue Peruvian Potatoes

    Aji Amarillo Chile

    [6] Purple Peruvian potatoes. [7] Blue Peruvian potatoes. [8] Aji amarillo, the chile of Peru.

     

      

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    RECIPES: Spinach Salad with Pan-Seared Salmon & Other Recipes For National Spinach Day

    March 26th is National Spinach Day, and you know what that means: Eat some spinach to celebrate!

    This colorful, nutritious recipe (photo #1) makes a nice lunch or dinner. Fresh spinach, orange segments, peppers and red onion make a colorful base for salmon or other fish fillets.

    And there are many more recipes below, including spinach mashed potatoes: a great idea (photo #4).

    RECIPE #1: SPINACH SALAD WITH PAN-SEARED SALMON, ORANGES, RED ONION & AVOCADO

    The recipe, sent to us by the California Avocado Commission, is from Salmon: A Cookbook, by Diane Morgan (photo #3).

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 10 minutes.

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Fresly gound pepper
  • 7 cups (about 6 ounces) lightly packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved lengthwise, seeded, deribbed, and cut into long, thin slices
  • 2 navel oranges, peeled and white pith removed, cut into segments
  • 4 Copper River or other salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each), skin and pin bones removed
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ripe avocado, seeded, peeled, and cut into 16 thin wedges*
  • ________________

    *Brush the exposed avocado with olive oil or cover tightly with plastic wrap to prevent oxidation (browning). As with all fruits and vegetables, wash the avocado before cutting.
    ________________
     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the olive oil, vinegar, mustard and sugar in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, with salt and pepper to taste. Cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend. Taste and adjust the seasonings; set aside.

    2. PLACE the spinach, onion and bell pepper in a large salad bowl. Put the orange segments in a separate, small bowl.

    3. SEASON the salmon on both sides with a bit of salt and pepper. Place a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the remaining olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the salmon, skin-side down, and cook until the skin is crisp, about 4 minutes.

    4. CAREFULLY TURN the salmon and cook until the fillets are almost opaque throughout, but still very moist—or an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 125°F to 130°F—about 4 minutes. Transfer to a warm plate and set aside while you toss the salad.

    5. TO SERVE: Add the orange segments to the salad bowl, give the dressing a last-minute shake, and pour it over the salad. Toss gently. Arrange the salad on 4 dinner plates. Place a salmon fillet in the center, on top of the salad; garnish each salad with 4 slices of avocado; and serve immediately.

       

    Spinach Salad With Salmon

    Fresh Spinach

    Salmon: A Cookbook

    Spinach Mashed Potatoes

    [1] Top a spinach salad with a salmon fillet (photo courtesy California Avocado Commission). [2] Pick up some perky, fresh spinach (photo courtesy Ocean Mist | Chronicle Books). [3] Thanks to Salmon: A Cookbook for this recipe (photo courtesy Chronicle Books). [4] Recipe #2: mashed potatoes and spinach (photo courtesy Idaho Potato Commission).

     
    RECIPE #2: SPINACH & MASHED POTATOES

    What a great idea! Sun chokes add another dimension to the recipe, but if you can’t find them or don’t want them, leave them out.

    In fact, here’s a very easy preparation for spinach mashed potatoes: Simply make mashed potatoes. Cook frozen spinach and press out the water. Blend with the mashed potatoes. Add butter or cream, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Roasting a head of garlic (photo #5) and mashing it into the potatoes and spinach is a delicious idea.

    Ingredients For 4-6 Servings

  • 2 pounds Idaho/russet potatoes, washed but unpeeled
  • 1 head garlic
  • ½ pound sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
  • 1 head (bulb) of garlic, unpeeled but with a half inch removed from the top
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • 1½ cups heavy cream, divided into ½ cup measure and 1 cup measure portions
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups packed baby spinach
  • Ice water bath for blanched baby spinach
  • Additional salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COOK the potatoes: Place the potatoes in cold water and heat the water to just below boiling. The water will be steaming but not moving. Cook the potatoes in the steaming water until fork tender, about 1½ hours.

    2. HEAT the oven to 350°F. Toss the sunchokes in olive oil and salt and pepper. Rub the garlic head with olive oil and wrap it in foil. Place the sun chokes and garlic on a sheet pan. While the potatoes are cooking…

     

    Roasted Garlic Head

    Spinach Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

    Baked Spinach Chips

    [5] Roast garlic bulb (photo courtesy Domesticate Me). [6] Portabellas stuffed with spinach (here’s the recipe from Healthy Recipes Blog). [7] Baked spinach chips (here’s the recipe from Hungry Couple).

     

    3. ROAST the sunchokes and garlic until soft, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove them from the oven and turn down the oven temperature to 325°F. Squeeze the cloves from the garlic and set aside. Remove the cooked sunchokes from oven and puree with 1/2 cup cream, using an immersion blender or food processor.

    4. REMOVE the fork tender potatoes from the water. Place in the to dry the potato skins. While potato skins dry…

    5. HEAT a second pot of water to boiling, to blanch the spinach. While waiting for the water to boil, melt the butter in a small saucepan, and blend in the remaining cup of cream until hot. Set aside.

    6. PREPARE the ice bath (ice cubes in a bowl of water). Prepare the spinach in boiling water for two minutes. Remove it with a strainer and plunge into the ice water. Squeeze out the water and purée the spinach with a food processor or immersion blender. Set aside.

    7. REMOVE the potatoes from oven. Leave the skins on. In a large pot, smash the potatoes with a potato masher, adding small amounts of the hot cream/butter mixture as you go, until potatoes are fluffy. Squeeze in the garlic cloves and sunchoke purée and continue to smash. Fold in the puréed spinach. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
     
    THE HISTORY OF SPINACH

    Spinach (Spinacia oleracea), is native to central and western Asia (think ancient Persia). It is a member of the botanical family Amaranthaceae, which also includes amaranth, beet, chard, lamb’s quarters (mache) and quinoa, plus numerous flowering house and garden plants.

    At some point, spinach was introduced to India and subsequently to Nepal. It arrived in China around 647 C.E., where it was known as “Persian vegetable.”

    It became a popular vegetable in the Arab Mediterranean, and in 827 was brought to Italy by the Saracens. It arrived in Spain by the latter part of the 12th century, and in Germany by the 13th century.

    Spinach first appeared in England and France in the 14th century and quickly became popular because it could be harvested in early spring, when other vegetables were scarce.

    Spinach was supposedly the favorite vegetable of Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), wife of King Henry II of France. Dishes served on a bed of spinach are known as “Florentine” after her birthplace, Florence.

    “Florentine” dishes are sometimes served with Mornay sauce, a béchamel sauce with cheese (usually Gruyère or Parmesan).

     
    MORE SPINACH RECIPES

  • Artichoke & Spinach Stuffed Potato
  • Beet, Spinach & Apple Salad
  • Cheese Tortellini Recipe With Spinach & Wild Mushrooms
  • Creamed Spinach Without The Cream
  • Curried Spinach Tart
  • Grill-Wilted Spinach With Tzatziki
  • Kansas City Crab Grass Dip (warm crab and spinach dip)
  • Mushrooms, Ramps & Spinach Tart
  • Penne Pasta Salad With Spinach
  • Portabella Mushrooms With Spinach Stuffing
  • Pxali, Georgian spinach dip with walnuts
  • Savory Spinach Bread Pudding
  • Shrimp & Grilled Spinach Pizza
  • Spanakopita, Greek spinach pie
  • Spinach & Artichoke Dip
  • Spinach Dip: 13 Ways To Use It
  • Spinach & Grapefruit Salad With Dijon-Honey Vinaigrette
  • ats/stuffed-pork-roast-recipe.asp” target=”_blank”>Spinach-Stuffed Pork Roast
  • Turkey & Peanut Butter Club Sandwich With Spinach
  • Warm Spinach & Mascarpone Dip (also great on baked potatoes)
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Asparagus Season Tips, Tricks & Recipes

    Our favorite harbinger of spring has landed in the market. There are numerous spring fruits and vegetables that are eagerly awaited by food enthusiasts; but our favorite is asparagus.

    Fresh-harvested domestic asparagus is as flavorful and affordable as it gets.

    Bonus: asparagus has just three calories per medium spear, and contains no fat or cholesterol.

    It’s also nutritious:

  • A good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc.
  • A very good source of copper, dietary fiber, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and vitamin K.
  •  
    The season runs through June, so dig in.

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF ASPARAGUS

    Asparagus officinalis was first cultivated more than 5,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region. The oldest reference shows the spring vegetable on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 B.C.E.

  • The ancient Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. They liked asparagus so much that they dried it to enjoy after the short asparagus season ended.
  • The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apicius, believed to be from the late 4th century C.E., has a recipe for cooking asparagus.
  • The vegetable gained popularity in France and England in the 16th Century. King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) enjoyed asparagus so much that he had special greenhouses built to supply it year-round.
  • No doubt Louis enjoyed it with with hollandaise sauce, a rich sauce made from butter and eggs. The first known recipe for hollandaise was published in 1651, in a cookbook by the great French chef François Pierre de La Varenne (1618-1678). The recipe was for Asparagus in Fragrant Sauce (his original name for hollandaise).
  • Early colonists brought the plant to America.
  •  
    Asparagus is a perennial plant, raised in furrowed fields. It takes about three years before the plants produce spears that can be harvested. The spears are cut by hand when they reach about 9 inches in length.

    The delicate asparagus plant needs a temperate climate and requires much hand labor in all phases of cultivation; hence, their higher cost.

    White Asparagus, Purple Asparagus

    White asparagus is a special treatment of conventional asparagus, grown for its color.

    The spears must be grown under a layer of topsoil or in the dark without exposure to sunlight. Light would engender photosynthesis and the development of green chlorophyll. The growing technique was developed in France in the mid-1600s.

    If you come across fresh white asparagus and want to see if the extra cost is worth it, steam them with a bit of salt and taste their nuances before adding butter or another ingredient. You may or may not find a difference worth the money. Never buy bland, canned white asparagus.

    Here’s more about white asparagus as well as purple asparagus, a breed that is larger, sweeter and tastier than the conventional green types of asparagus.

    Purple asparagus was originally developed in Italy by farmers in the Albenga region of the Italian Riviera. It was first commercialized under the variety name Violetto d’Albenga.

    Purple asparagus retains its color if cooked briefly (blanching, quick sauteing), but reverts ti green with prolonged cooking.

    ASPARAGUS PURCHASE & PREPARATION

    Buying Asparagus

    Look for firm stalks of a uniform width and a minimum amount of woodiness at the end. It doesn’t matter if they’re thick or slender: both are equally tender. But you need uniformity of size to cook them evenly.

    The tips should be tightly closed. Once they begin to separate, it means that the asparagus is older and won’t have the best fresh flavor. If your tips have begin to wilt, soak the spears in an ice bath before cooking.

    Vegetables wilt when they dry out. You can restore the moisture with an ice bath: Fill a bowl with water with ice cubes. Add the vegetables (cut as you plan to use them) and let them sit for 15 minutes or longer. Remove with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on a cloth or paper towel and they’ll be crisp.

    Preparing Asparagus

    Asparagus can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, tossed into soups and stews, and eaten raw as crudités.

    Most cooking instructions tell you to hold a spear of asparagus in both hands and bend until it snaps at its natural break point (which is 1-2 inches above the base). That produces rough, uneven bottoms.

    We simply trim them with a knife as far as the green portion goes.

    Other instructions tell you to peel the surface of the bottom quarter if they are woody. We don’t have this problem, even with the thickest asparagus. But if you’ve trimmed the white bottoms and still are concerned about woodiness, here are two options:

  • Slice a 1/4″ piece from the bottom and chew it. You’ll know for sure if it will cook nicely.
  • Trim that extra inch or so, keep the trimmings and use them in a scramble or other recipe.
  •    
    Asparagus Scramble

    Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

    Asparagus Burrata Salad

    Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese

    Asparagus Crostini

    [1] Asparagus Scramble (here’s the recipe from California Asparagus Commission). [2] Asparagus-Bacon Bundles (this also works with green beans—here’s the recipe from Food Network). [3] Burrata Salad With Asparagus & Prosciutto at Barbuto | NYC. [4] Ham & Asparagus Rolls With Blue Cheese (here’s the recipe from Castello USA). [5] Asparagus Crostini from Nestle USA | WordPress. Use hummus or bean dip as the base.

     
    Cooking Asparagus

    Boiled Asparagus: Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then gently tip in your prepped asparagus. Boil for 2 minutes or until the asparagus are bright green and al dente. Take them out and lay it in a single layer to cool. Top with chopped hard boiled eggs and herbs for a light lunch, or puree with a little green garlic for a simple pasta sauce.

    Grilled Asparagus: Asparagus will slip through the grill if you don’t use a vegetable basket or skewers. We actually like the skewer technique, which creates a rack of asparagus. Simply skewer four or five medium or thick asparagus together, brush with olive oil, season to taste, and cook on a hot, preheated grill Preheat grill for high heat for 2-3 minutes per side (depending on thickness), or to desired tenderness.

    Before you add the oil, however, use the ice bath technique described above. When the asparagus come off the grill, they’ll be moist and crisp.

    Raw Asparagus: After trimming, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin below the spear. We like to slice it thinly on an angle to create ovals, to add to salads and grain bowls, but you can also peel it into delicious ribbons. Reserve the tips of the asparagus and mix them in with the rest!

    Roasted Asparagus: Heat the oven to 400°. Toss prepped asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a glug of olive oil and a large pinch of salt and roast for 5 minutes or so—until crisped at the tips and slightly browned.

    Steamed Asparagus: Simply steamed fresh asparagus at peak flavor is so delicious, we find it needs no embellishment—no salt, balsamic drizzle, butter, lemon juice or other seasoning beyond a pinch of salt. It requires just a quick visit to the vegetable steamer (or microwave) to be ready to eat. (Note: While some people love it, we think that a vertical asparagus steamer is a waste of space.)

    But if you do have a bottle of balsamic glaze or balsamic cream, bring it out!

     

    Grilled Rack Of Asparagus

    Linguine With Prosciutto  & Asparagus

    [6] Grilled Rack Of Asparagus (here’s the recipe from the California Asparagus Commission). [7] Linguine With Asparagus and Parma Ham (here’s the recipe from Il Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma).

     

    ASPARAGUS RECIPES

    Enjoy asparagus every meal of the day!
     
    Breakfast & Brunch

  • Asparagus Frittata With Red Bell Peppers
  • Asparagus Scramble With Herbed Cream Cheese & Tomatoes
  •  
    Lunch

  • Asparagus Pizza
  • Asparagus Spring Rolls With Sweet Red Chili Dipping Sauce
  • Fresh Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Sandwich
  • Thai Grilled Lamb & Asparagus Salad
  •  
    Dinner

  • Asparagus & Shrimp Risotto
  • Green Lasagna With Asparagus & Pesto
  • Linguine, Asparagus & Parma Ham (Prosciutto)
  • Linguine In Clam Sauce With Asparagus
  • Morels With Scallops & Asparagus
  • Warm Salad Of Asparagus Spears & Seared Lamb Chops With Fresh Mint Vinaigrette
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    First Courses & Sides

  • Asparagus & Grapefruit Saute
  • Asparagus & Prosciutto Wraps
  • Grilled Asparagus & Mushroom Salad With Shaved Parmesan
  • Grilled Rack Of Asparagus
  • Radish & Asparagus Salad With Blood Orange Vinaigrette
  • Sweet & Spicy Szechuan Asparagus
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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Wedge Salad Bar & Different Types Of Lettuce

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, restaurant menus offered hearts of lettuce salad with creamy dressings. The head was cut into quarters and plated with a slice of tomato for color.

    Homemakers were fans, too.

  • The iceberg heads were sold fully trimmed, with little waste.
  • It was easy to cut into wedges or slice into shreds.
  • Although some people tore it into pieces, “The Joy Of Cooking” admonished: “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated. They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into crosswise slices.”
  •  
    The lettuce’s crunch was very popular, if bland-tasting (solution: lots of dressing!). The heads kept longer in the fridge, so there was no wilted waste.

    Even James Beard was a fan, recommending the crisp texture mixed with other greens.

    Then came the California cuisine movement, introducing us to better varieties to eat. Iceberg was mocked for lacking flavor.

    Instead, foodies filled their shopping carts with romaine plus arugula and radicchio.

    Yet, hardy, crunchy iceberg still accounts for 70% of the lettuces raised in California (down from 80% in the mid-1970s, however). It’s still popular in foodservice (commercial, institutional), at salad bars and casual restaurants.

    And thanks to the retro food movement of the past decade, iceberg has returned to restaurant menus beyond the steakhouse, in the hearts of lettuce salad now known by a trendier name: wedge salad.

    Let the wedge salad add fun and crunch to your meals. If you have a daily dinner salad, feature the wedge once a week. Turn it into a DIY salad buffet for family and guests. An ingredients list is below.

    WEDGE SALAD HISTORY

    The crisphead (iceberg) lettuce variety is relatively new in the history of lettuce cultivation (see the different categories of lettuce, below).

    Crisphead lettuce was a mutation: A grower discovered a different-looking, sweeter-tasting head of lettuce in his field.

    Liking its flavor and superior crispness, he teamed with other growers to breed it to be even better. Thus was born what we today call iceberg lettuce.

    The new variety became a top seller, and remains so. It was called crisphead, its given varietal name, until the 1920s. It subsequently acquired the name iceberg because of its ability to be transported for long distances when packed on ice.

    Before the iceberg named settled in, it was also called cabbage lettuce, for its resemblance to cabbage. In 1894, a Burpee seed catalog exclaimed, “There is no handsomer or more solid Cabbage Lettuce in cultivation.”

    Numerous varieties of crisphead were developed, including varieties with reddish leaves tinged with green and varieties with scalloped edges. While they did not enter the mass market, you can still buy the seeds from specialty sellers.

    Now about the wedge salad:

    Period cookbooks, newspapers and culinary reference books date the popularity of iceberg lettuce salads to the 1920s.

    But the general consensus is that the wedge salad with creamy dressing became a ubiquitous menu entry in the 1950s. [source]

    Who served the first “hearts of lettuce salad,” as it was then called?

    Likely it was a steak house, given the popularity of that type of restaurant in the 1950s and the [still] ubiquitous presence on those menus. But as with so many things, we can only give credit to “an unknown cook.”

       

    Wedge Salad

    Wedge Salad

    Iceberg Lettuce

    [1] A California Wedge Salad with avocado, prosciutto crumbles and ranch dressing (here’s the recipe from Little Broken). [2] A BLT Wedge Salad from Applegate also has avocado and bacon with ranch dressing (here’s the recipe). Note that these are two different recipe names with the same ingredients. [3] The ubiquitous head of iceberg lettuce: Just quarter it for your wedge salad (photo Good Housekeeping).

     

    Boston Lettuce

    Red Leaf Lettuce

    Romaine

    [4] Boston lettuce, a variety of butterhead. [5] Red leaf lettuce, a variety of leaf lettuce. [6] Romaine lettuce (photos courtesy Good Housekeeping).

     

    DIY WEDGE SALAD BAR

    At THE NIBBLE, we’ve added a lot to the simple wedge salad. Call it a DIY, customized or signature wedge salad, it’s a fun munch.

    The Must Haves

  • Iceberg lettuce wedges
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Creamy dressings: blue cheese, thousand island/Russian, ranch
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    Nice Additions

  • Avocado
  • Bacon, any type (the different types of bacon)
  • Cheeses: crumbled blue cheese or feta, shaved parmesan
  • Croutons
  • Veggies: peppadews or pimentos, red onion or scallions
  • Watercress
  •  
    For A Main Dish

  • Hard boiled egg halves (the quarters tend to fall apart)
  • Ham or turkey, julienned or cubed
  •  
    Garnishes

  • Fried Chinese noodles
  • Frizzled onions
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, tarragon)
  • Nuts and seeds: candied walnuts, pepitas, spiced pecans, salted peanuts, any toasted nuts
  •  
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LETTUCE

    There four basic types: butterhead, iceberg, leaf, and romaine, along with hundreds of hybrids bred from them.

    Iceberg Lettuce: Also known as crisped lettuce, this is the crispest and hardiest of lettuces varieties. It lasts twice as long in the fridge as long as most other varieties. The downside: It’s not as flavorful or nutritious as other lettuces.

     

    Butterhead Lettuce: Comprising Boston and Bibb Lettuces, these are small, loosely formed heads of soft, supple leaves. Boston is a larger and fluffier head than Bibb; Bibb is the size of a fist, and sweeter than Boston. Both are excellent for lettuce cups. The down side: They’re highly perishable and bruise easily; and are pricier than iceberg and romaine.

    Leaf Lettuce: This category does not form a head; the leaves branch up from a single stalk. The leaves are very tender and are often seen in baby lettuce blends. The burgundy tint of red leaf lettuce and the spicier, nuttier oak leaf lettuce adds charming color to a mixed green salad. The downside: Leaf lettuces are more perishable than head lettuces and wilt easily.

    Romaine Lettuce: Second in crunchiness to iceberg lettuce, romaine is a stalk lettuce like leaf lettuce, with a pleasant bitterness. The crunchy center ribs make the leaves sturdy; and when the outer leaves are trimmed, the smaller ones (sold as hearts of romaine) can be used as “boats” to hold protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.).

      

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