With Victoria Day just over, the official start to summer has begun – weekends away at cottages, barbecues in the backyard and the blissful anticipation of warm sunny days to come. Here from Foodland Ontario are ways to celebrate summer with one of the first seasonal treats: asparagus.
Asparagus and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
The topping for this appetizer can be made ahead, but assemble the bruschetta just before serving. The topping is also delicious tossed in a green salad.
8 oz (250 g) asparagus, trimmed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp (45 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped, drained, oil-packed sun-dried
salt and pepper
3 oz (90 g) goat cheese
24 crostini (toasted baguette slices, cooled)
To “trim” asparagus, simply break spears where they naturally snap and discard the ends. The remainder is tender and ideal for blanching.
In pot of boiling salted water, cook asparagus until tender, about three minutes; drain. Rinse or plunge into cold water; drain again. Pat dry with paper towel.
Chop asparagus into small pieces and place in bowl. Add garlic, oil, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste.
Spread a little of the cheese onto each crostini; top with asparagus mixture. Serve immediately.
To make crostini: Cut baguette into 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick slices and place in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in 400˚F (200˚C) oven for five to six minutes or until lightly toasted. Toasts may be prepared up to one day ahead. Makes 24 appetizers.
Ham and Brie Baguette with Asparagus Pesto
Here’s a jazzy take on an old favourite – the ham and cheese sandwich.
6 oz (170 g) asparagus, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup (60 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (60 mL) packed coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper
1 regular or multi-grain baguette
4 oz (125 g) Brie cheese, sliced
8 oz (250 g) thinly sliced Black Forest ham
Asparagus Pesto: In food processor, process asparagus, garlic, Parmesan cheese, basil, oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste until pureed, scraping down side of bowl.
Cut baguette into four even lengths. Cut each piece in half horizontally. Spread each cut side with asparagus pesto. Top four bases with Brie and ham slices, add top bread.
Tip: Pesto recipe can easily be doubled and used on pasta or crostini. Store refrigerated in airtight container. Pesto can also be frozen in 1 tbsp (15mL) amounts and stored in airtight container for future use. Serves four.
Asparagus-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Easy enough for a weeknight meal but elegant enough to serve to guests, this tasty recipe needs only a green salad, steamed new potatoes and roasted carrots with maple syrup for a special spring celebration.
If you are using toothpicks to hold chicken in place, make sure they protrude on the side of stuffed chicken for easy removal after baking.
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp (30 mL) Dijon mustard
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
4 slices of Provolone cheese
16 asparagus spears, blanched in boiling water
2 tbsp (30 mL) melted butter
1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh whole wheat bread crumbs
Using a sharp knife butterfly each chicken breast at thickest part and open. Place chicken breasts between two pieces of waxed paper and pound to 1/2 inch (5 mm) thickness.
In small bowl, combine mustard, tarragon, salt and pepper to taste; spread evenly over rough side of each breast. Top each with cheese slice and four asparagus spears. Roll up chicken. Letting asparagus protrude on both ends; secure with toothpicks.
Place chicken breasts seam side down on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with a little of the butter. Toss crumbs with remaining butter; pat onto stuffed breasts. Sprinkle with pepper to taste.
Bake in 400 F (200 C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced. If desired broil 2 to 3 minutes to brown topping. Remove toothpicks and serve. Serves four.
Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer