It’s asparagus season; when Michigan’s brave warriors thrust their helmeted heads through the dirt, hoping a late frost doesn’t blindside them. So my ammunition’s at-the-ready – a battery of recipes that will maximize the bounty through the middle of June.
I can blanch, then wrap them in proscuitto; stuff them into an omelet; make a quickie flatbread pizza, purée them in a soup, make a spring green risotto, drizzle with Caesar dressing, use them in a stir fry, or toss with morels and turn into a gratin…whew, I need to catch my breath.
Fresh asparagus is available year round but, for me, asparagus from Michigan soil has a brighter, fresher taste, and a crispier texture than off-shore imports. Purchasing asparagus from local farmers when the morning dew sweats their pointy little heads is a sweet treat, indeed. According to Extension Horticulture Specialist, Douglas Sanders, Michigan ranks with California and Washington State in the top-three USA asparagus producing states; most of the commercial acreage located on the west-central part of the state in Oceana County, near Lake Michigan.
Look for firm, fresh, spears with closed, compact tips and uniform diameter, so that all spears will cook in the same amount of time. Asparagus will keep fresh for a few days. Place in a vase, as you would a bouquet of flowers, add water to cover stem ends and refrigerate.
Rakishly thin asparagus, those first to hit the market stalls, may be eaten raw and need no more than a five to ten second blanch in well-salted water. Enjoy by themselves or, perhaps, served with a Caesar and Hollandaise dipping sauce. But today I present you with a recipe for their big brothers and sisters, the thicker, meatier asparagus that can handle a batter and sizzling oil.
There is an art behind making good tempura, which should be made just prior to eating. According to wikipedia, “Tempura batter is traditionally mixed in small batches using chopsticks for only a few seconds, leaving lumps in the mixture that, along with the cold batter temperature, result in the unique fluffy and crisp tempura structure when cooked.”
Overmixing of the batter will result in activation of wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become chewy and dough-like when fried. To keep my batter cold, I place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes.
To minimize the spattering when making tempura, be sure the vegetables are dry before you coat them in batter. Fry only a few pieces at a time to prevent them from sticking together.
The award-winning documentary “Asparagus! Stalking the American Life”, which New York Magazine penned, “Oddly Brilliant”, is a must-see for locavores and asparagus lovers. The documentary, set in Oceana County, Michigan offers a behind the red carpet glimpse of the “Miss Asparagus” Pageant, and interviews with farmers and their trials to compete with factory farms and off-shore industries. This recipe would be the perfect nosh for watching the film.