(Click here if you want to skip the tips and just get to the above recipe for Chicken Paillards with Asparagus, Lemon, and Garlic.)
I pride myself on relishing each season’s bounty, but winter is tough.
Oh, I start off loving sheet pans full of roasted root vegetables, skillets full of brussels sprouts sautes, and pots and pots of cauliflower soup. But by about mid-February, I’ve had more than enough. I just can’t look at one more rutabaga.
Which is a long way of saying—thank goodness it’s finally, blessedly spring.
It’s time for baby artichokes and peas. For strawberries and rhubarb. For spring onions and green garlic and fennel. And perhaps my favorite of all, asparagus.
I can go through a bunch a week. Need ideas for enjoying asparagus? Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Roasted asparagus
Toss spears in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast them in a blasting-hot oven. Why blasting-hot? Because asparagus is so tiny that it takes a really hot oven to get it nicely browned on the outside before it’s overcooked on the inside.
These are great with everything. A simple chicken breast. Pan-seared fish fillets. A big baked potato or sweet potato.
When it gets a little warmer, I’ll do the same olive-oil-salt-and-pepper preparation and cook the asparagus on the grill, which is even better.
2. Asparagus salad
Blanch whole spears in a pot of boiling, well-salted water until crisp-tender, two or three minutes. Arrange them on a plate—warm, cold, or room temperature—then top them with crumbled goat cheese or shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and a few chopped fresh herbs. Voila! An easy yet impressive appetizer or side dish, or add a poached egg and it’s a meal.
3. Asparagus spears for dipping
While you’re blanching spears for your asparagus salad, cook an extra bunch and keep them in the refrigerator, to enjoy with your favorite dip or salad dressing as a snack or appetizer. If you want to get fancier, wrap the spears in prosciutto, which are awesome dipped in aioli, blue cheese dressing, or homemade Meyer Lemon Mayonnaise.
(There’s a recipe for Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Tarragon Aioli in my book “100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love.”)
4. Asparagus souffle
I admit this isn’t something I make on a regular basis, but if you’re looking to wow a crowd with a light, springy side dish or entrée—Easter, perhaps?—you absolutely can’t go wrong with an asparagus souffle.
Daunted by the idea of making a souffle? Don’t be. Although it seems special occasion and fancy, a souffle is really quite easy to make. (There’s a recipe for Asparagus Souffle in my book “100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love.”)
5. Asparagus green salad
Another use for those extra spears that you blanched and chilled? Cut them into 1- or 1 1/2-inch pieces and toss them in a salad. A couple of my favorite combos are asparagus with arugula, oranges, and feta and asparagus with frisée, crumbled bacon, and chopped hard-cooked egg.
But really, whatever salad ingredients you like and have on hand will be springy-by-association with the addition of asparagus.
6. Asparagus scramble
Another use for those blanched, chilled, asparagus pieces—add them to scrambled eggs, ideally with some cheese, shallots, and herbs.
7. Asparagus pasta
Toss asparagus pieces into your pasta cooking water during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking, then drain them right along with the pasta and toss it all with your sauce.
I love asparagus with pesto pasta, maybe with some chicken, shrimp, or sundried tomatoes. And although peas are traditional, asparagus would be awesome in Fettuccine Carbonara.
8. Asparagus grain salad
I make a version of this farro salad on a pretty regular basis, changing up the veggies with the seasons, and eating off it for weekday lunches. Now that it’s time for asparagus, I’m looking forward to bite-sized pieces—raw or barely cooked—combined with farro, radishes, peas, and tons of coarsely chopped herbs, like parsley, mint, and cilantro.
9. Asparagus stir-fry
At our house, we enjoy stir-fry pretty regularly, but the springy versions are some of my favorites. Asparagus goes great with beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp and with sauces from spicy black bean and garlic to sweet and sour.
10. Chicken Paillards with Asparagus, Lemon, and Garlic
The last five ideas basically boil down to “toss them into whatever you’re already doing,” which brings us to one of my favorite asparagus recipes, Chicken Paillards with Asparagus, Lemon, and Garlic. It’s basically pounded chicken breasts, a simple pan sauce, and asparagus thrown in for good measure.
It’s springtime in a skillet.
And it could not have come too soon.