6 Ways to Serve Asparagus, the Harbinger of Spring

There are a couple of things that announce springtime’s arrival: bulb flowers like crocuses and daffodils, the return of the songbirds, and fresh asparagus at the market. These little green spears lead the charge, breaking through the thawed ground to trumpet the beginning of growing season.

They’re bright and fresh and almost synonymous with the taste of spring and new green colors. Asparagus is one of those vegetables that can be found all year round, but fresh spring asparagus truly does taste better. It’s more tender, it’s sweeter, and it’s got more of a snap to it. While it’s here and in season, take advantage of it with these 6 recipes.

Source: iStock

1. Roasted Garlic Asparagus

This preparation of asparagus is simple, elegant, and healthy. It’s a phenomenal side dish for just about any main, and it’s incredibly quick and easy to pull together. Coming from Susie Fishbein’s cookbook, Passover By Design: Picture Perfect Kosher By Design Recipes for the Holiday via Epicurious, it’s naturally parve and non-gebrokts — and really delicious. Roasting at a high heat helps keep the asparagus from getting mushy, which is not something anyone wants to sit down to. Instead, it becomes crisp at the edges and soft on the inside, making it a real delight to bite into.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons fresh finely chopped parsley
  • 2 pounds thin asparagus, ends trimmed
  • Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small pot, heat the oil, garlic, onion powder, and parsley on medium-low heat. Cook for 3 minutes, until the garlic mixture is fragrant but not browned.

Spread the asparagus in a single layer on the prepared pan. Lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle on the garlic-oil mixture.

Roast for 8 to 10 minutes, until the asparagus are bright green; do not overcook.

Transfer to a platter and serve hot.

Source: iStock

2. Morel and Asparagus Spaghetti

Morels, a sought-after spring mushroom, are paired with asparagus and cream here in this springy pasta dish from Saveur. Though it is possible to find and substitute fresh morels in this recipe, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to find dried morels in almost every part of the country. The recipe takes full advantage of the dried morels, which are rehydrated in the water you’ll boil the spaghetti in, giving the pasta an infusion of earthy flavor. The earthiness is tempered with the vegetal brightness of asparagus and the citrusy brightness of lemon, and balanced out by a bit of cream and Parmesan cheese. All around, this dish is a winner.

Ingredients:

  • ½ ounce dried morel mushrooms; about 5 mushrooms
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¾ cup vegetable stock
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Directions: Place morels and 8 cups boiling water in a bowl; set aside until morels are tender, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board and slice in half lengthwise.

Pour soaking liquid into a large stockpot, discarding any dirt or sediment at the bottom. Add additional water sufficient to cook pasta; bring to a boil. Season water with salt and add spaghetti; cook, stirring, until al dente, about 13 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil and butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add reserved morels, plus asparagus and stock; bring to a boil. Cook, covered, until asparagus is tender, about 3 minutes. Uncover, add cream, and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and add pasta, juice, zest, salt, pepper, and cheese. Toss until evenly combined. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with more cheese, if you’d like.

Source: iStock

3. Asparagus Soup

This garden-fresh asparagus soup from Eating Well is spiced with a bit of curry, adding a new level of flavor that many asparagus soups just don’t have. It’s enriched with lite coconut milk and potatoes, making it a great spring soup — it’s not too light or too thin, but it’s also not heavy. It’s clean and straightforward, but not one-dimensional. It’s a transitional soup, moving from winter to spring.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
  • 2 cups diced peeled red potatoes
  • 3 cups vegetable broth, or reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup lite coconut milk
  • 2 cups ½-inch pieces of trimmed asparagus, about 1 bunch
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche or reduced-fat sour cream
  • ¼ cup finely chopped scallion greens or fresh chives

Directions: Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, ginger, lemon zest, and potatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk, and asparagus. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover, and continue to cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or a regular blender in batches until smooth. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper.

Whisk crème fraîche or sour cream, lemon juice, and scallion greens or chives in a small bowl and garnish with a swirl of it.

Source: iStock

4. Shrimp and Asparagus Stir Fry With Lemon Sauce

Are you starting to see a pattern? Lemon and asparagus are best buds. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, both bringing out the best in each other. In this dish from Home Cooking Memories, sweet and succulent shrimp is paired with asparagus and nutty brown rice, tossed in a clean, happy, zesty lemon sauce. It’s a perfect spring stir fry for a lunch outside on a warm day or for a delicious dinner in on a rainy night.

Ingredients:

Stir fry

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed and each stalk cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
  • ½ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

Lemon sauce

  • ⅔ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions: In a small bowl, whisk together all of the lemon sauce ingredients and set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to pan in a single layer and cook for about 3 minutes, turning them over to cook both sides. Season shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt. Shrimp should be beginning to pink on both sides and be opaque, but just slightly undercooked. Remove from frying pan and place shrimp on a plate.

In same frying pan, heat another 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, bright green, and just barely beginning to brown. Season asparagus with ¼ teaspoon salt. Add ginger and garlic, and stir to combine with asparagus. Cook for another 30 to 45 seconds or so.

Pour in lemon sauce mixture into frying pan with asparagus. Add shrimp back into pan and combine sauce with asparagus and shrimp. Simmer for about a minute or until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat and serve.

Source: iStock

5. Asparagus and Prosciutto Frittata

This frittata is the perfect spring brunch dish, but it is also great for lunch and dinner paired with a side salad in a bright vinaigrette. The saltiness of the prosciutto balances the naturally sweet vegetable, with eggy, cheesy goodness adding heft to the party. Like Better Homes and Gardens says, we’ve never met a sautéed asparagus dish we didn’t like — and this frittata is no exception. Remember to use an oven-safe skillet to cook this on the stove for easy stovetop to oven to table transfers.

Ingredients:

  • 8 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped prosciutto
  • ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions: Preheat broiler. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, thyme, and pepper. Beat with a whisk until well mixed and evenly colored; set aside.

Add oil to a large broiler-proof skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus; cook and stir about 4 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender. Stir in prosciutto.

Pour egg mixture over asparagus mixture in skillet. Cook over medium heat. As egg mixture sets, run a spatula around edges of skillet, lifting egg mixture so the uncooked portion flows underneath. Continue cooking and lifting edges until egg mixture is almost set; the surface will be moist.

Place skillet under the broiler, 4 to 5 inches from the heat. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes or just until top is set. Sprinkle with cheese.

Source: iStock

6. Ribboned Asparagus Salad With Lemon and Parmesan

Don’t forget that asparagus is delicious raw, too! In fact, some people prefer the flavor of raw asparagus to that of cooked asparagus. If you think asparagus doesn’t float your boat, give this salad from Smitten Kitchen a try before you cast it aside as a lost cause forever. This is a really fun way to celebrate the start of asparagus season and the beginning of spring. Deb makes a point of not using too many measurements in this, because it’s all to taste. Make sure you taste as you go along, not just at the end!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
  • 1 pound asparagus, rinsed
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 ounces Parmesan cheese

Directions: Toast your nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 to 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on them and tossing frequently to avoid burning. Remove from oven and let cool.

Don’t bother snapping the ends off the spears — just lay a single stalk on its side on a cutting board. Holding onto the tough end, use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin asparagus ribbons from stalk to tip, peeling away from the tough end in your hand. Discard the tough ends once you’re done peeling. Gently pile your ribbons on a medium-size serving platter.

Squeeze some lemon juice over the asparagus, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Toss gently, and then use your peeler to shave curls of Parmesan right off the block, over the asparagus. Sprinkle with some toasted nuts. Repeat with remaining asparagus, a third of the remaining bundle at a time. Eat immediately.

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