Food: Spring an ideal time for asparagus-lovers

PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

Spring is considered a time of rebirth and new beginnings.

Gardeners plant their seeds when the formerly frozen ground warms and grows softer. Rain brings new life into grasses, leading seeds to bud and bloom.

The sweet green temptation of salad greens in the garden, the aromatic smell of basil and the tender crunch of steamed asparagus come together to awake our senses from their winter hibernation diet of heavy comfort food-focused meals.

I can’t think of a better way to welcome the season than by celebrating with a dish designed to highlight some of spring’s more popular delights.

I love fresh asparagus. I love that its arrival is a seasonal event and that die-hard asparagus eaters wait for it with great anticipation.

This is the time of year I like to take advantage of the abundance of asparagus by incorporating it into several dishes.

My advice when preparing adamantly is this: Don’t overcook it. Please. To make sure the asparagus you serve is firm, lively and as green as spring, remove the spears from the heat source a little sooner than you think you should. The retained heat will continue to cook them, so you should calculate the cooking time allowing for that.

Serving asparagus with salt and butter is fine for the first week or two of the season, but then, it’s time to dial up the flavor factor and add some spice.

Asparagus stands up quite well to aggressive flavors. A quick toss in a hot skillet with ginger, garlic and chilies doesn’t overwhelm it, rather, the vegetable’s sweetness seems to become accentuated by contrast.

This is a wonderful salad that I like to make as either a main dish with hot bread or as a side salad. Enjoy!

Primavera Pasta Salad

2 lb. medium stalked asparagus,trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces½ lb. snow peas, strings removed1 jar of roasted red peppers drained1 jar of prepared pesto2 Tbsp. lemon juiceGrated Italian cheese blend(asiago, parmesan, romano, mozzarella)1 lb. box of tri-colored rotini cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled

Steam the asparagus and snow peas by placing in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 Tbsp. of water and cover. Microwave on high, 2-3 minutes. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Combine the red peppers with the asparagus, snow peas and pasta. Mix ¼ cup of pesto with the lemon juice and toss with the pasta and veggies. Sprinkle with

½-1 cup of the cheese. Add more pesto if you like.

Simple Roasted Asparagus with Lemon, Butter and Parmesan

2 lbs. asparagus, or about 2 bunches1 lemon, (half juiced and half sliced into rings)4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pats1 Tbsp. olive oil1 tsp. sea salt or added to taste½ tsp. black pepper, freshly ground, or added to taste½ cup shredded parmesan cheese, or to taste

Rinse two bunches of asparagus, and break off the ends by holding the base end and snapping it wherever it snaps. Place asparagus in a large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roll asparagus lightly to coat in oil and seasonings. Squeeze ½ of a lemon evenly over the asparagus. Line the top third of the asparagus with lemon slices from the second half of your lemon. Thinly slice 4 Tbsp. of butter and line the center of the asparagus with butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, or until asparagus is tender. Remove asparagus from the oven and set oven to broil. Sprinkle the center of the asparagus with Parmesan cheese then return to the center of the oven and broil 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden.

Kimberly Thompson is the owner of The Grateful Gourmet in Galena, Ill.

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