April 28th, 2020

Chef Mark Allison's Recipe

Asparagus is available year-round, but spring is the best season for this nutritious vegetable. Crops are harvested from late February to June, with April being the prime month and high season for asparagus.

A few interesting facts about asparagus:
The stalks shoot up from the crown of the plant and grow into fern-like leaves when they are allowed to develop. However, the edible stalks are harvested strictly by hand before the actual fern leaves develop.

You have to be patient to grow your own asparagus: It takes three years from the sowing of the seed to the harvest of the first stalks. Asparagus is one of the few vegetables that is grown as a perennial since the plants have about a 10-year life.

The plants are either male or female. The female produces seeds, which not only reduce the size of the stalks but also crowd the beds with seedlings. Since the males do not expend energy making seeds, their stalks are larger and more desirable.

Asparagus Varieties

Asparagus comes in the following grades: colossal, jumbo, large, standard, and small. These varieties are interchangeable in recipes, with the only change being in the color of the dish and the size of the asparagus itself.
Green asparagus: Most American asparagus is of this variety, which ranges from pencil-thin to very thick.
White: Preferred in Europe, these sunlight-deprived stalks are a little milder and more delicate.

Violet or purple: This variety is most commonly found in the United Kingdom and Italy and has a very thick and substantial stalk.

Wild: Asparagus grows wild in some areas, particularly in Europe. You'll most likely have to hunt down your own because it is rarely available fresh in markets, except in Italy and the south of France.

Asparagus & Bean Salad with Balsamic Parsley Dressing
Serves 4

1lb asparagus spears
Maldon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1x 16oz can of low in sodium butterbeans, rinsed
1 cup croutons (recipe below for homemade croutons)
4 cups arugula
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

How to make:
Take a medium size saucepan and half way fill with water, place on the stove over a high heat. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt, then add the asparagus and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Remove the asparagus from the water and place onto kitchen paper.

Slice any large spears in half lengthways and place into a large salad bowl, along with the butterbeans croutons and arugula.

Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add the chopped parsley and lightly season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the salad dressing over the asparagus, lightly toss everything together and serve.

Homemade croutons
Makes 4 cups
Extra virgin olive oil spray
6 slices 100% whole wheat bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Maldon salt, to taste
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.
How to make:

Spray a roasting tray lightly with cooking spray.
Combine the garlic powder, salt and Italian seasoning in a medium bowl.

Spread the bread cubes on prepared roasting tray in a single layer.

Spray the top with more oil to coat and top with half of the seasoning. Then bake for 10 minutes or until dry, crispy, and golden brown.

Turn the croutons over, spray a little more oil and sprinkle with remaining seasoning and black pepper, bake for an additional 10 minutes until golden and crisp, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Store croutons in air-tight container or ziplock bag.

Chef Mark

Copyright © 2020 Mark Allison