Arrival of spring means asparagus

When Ontario asparagus appears in the markets, you know spring has truly arrived. These long spears are a welcome addition to salads, pasta, rice, fish – you name it, they are yummy with everything, including this homemade aioli (recipe follows) with lemon-garlic overtones perfect to accompany asparagus’ delicate taste.

Here are some asparagus pointers (no pun intended) to assist in cooking the best asparagus ever:

Choose asparagus by the tightness of the tip – the tighter the tip, the fresher the asparagus. Often the tip has a purple tinge to it, but stems should be green and free of blemishes.

Freshness has nothing to do with the thickness of the stalk; in fact, thin asparagus stalks are frequently chewy. Stalks that are shrivelled should be discarded.

Asparagus should be sold standing in a tray of water. For the best flavour, look for the Ontario logo on the asparagus tray.

If possible, buy and serve asparagus the same day. However, if you are keeping asparagus several days, store with stalks upright in a plastic container with a little water. A yogurt container works well. Place the plastic produce bag over the top to keep the stalks hydrated.

When it comes to cooking asparagus, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Break off each stem end where they break naturally and discard end (usually a third to a half of the asparagus is discarded). These tough stems are good for making vegetable broth but not enticing as a vegetable course. Cook uncovered in boiling water two to three minutes or until tender-crisp. (Taste one to make sure they are the right texture.) Drain and serve at once. If using in a salad, refresh in cold water; cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Refreshing under cold water will keep asparagus’ bright green colour.

Lemon Aioli

Aioli is a garlic mayonnaise originally from the south of France. You can create your own version in minutes using commercial mayonnaise (a safer method than making homemade because it uses pasteurized egg yolks.) With the addition of lemon zest and juice, you can create a perfect accompaniment to asparagus.

3/4 cup (175 mL) light mayonnaise
1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice (juice from 1 lemon)
1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and lemon zest. Taste; correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Spoon aioli into a serving bowl; cover and refrigerate until serving time. Keeps refrigerated for up to two days. Makes 1 cup (250 mL).

Lentil salad with asparagus and Feta

Try this high-fibre salad from Foodland Ontario. Canned lentils make an easy job of producing this tasty salad, ideal to take to the cottage or serve at a backyard barbecue.

8 oz (250 g) asparagus, stems broken and discarded
1 can (19oz/ 540 mL) lentils, drained and rinsed
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
3/4 cup (175 mL) Feta cheese
1/4 cup (60 mL) each, chopped fresh parsley and fresh mint
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) red wine vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Dressing: In small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, shallot and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Salad: In saucepan of boiling water, cook asparagus uncovered two to three minutes, or until tender-crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 2-inch (10 cm) pieces. In large bowl, toss together asparagus, lentils, yellow pepper, tomato, Feta cheese, parsley and mint. Add dressing and toss to coat. Chill for one hour to blend flavours. Makes two to four servings.


Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer  ~

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