Monday, March 21, 2011

SPRINGTIME PREVIEW

I bring my asparagus home and put it in a
jar of water to keep for 2-3 days - change
the water every day.

This weekend I began seeing bunches of young asparagus in the produce markets.  To me, this means spring has finally arrived.

I am a big fan of asparagus.  Roasted with garlic and olive oil; pureed into soup; steamed and dusted with lemon zest; blanched in a salad; topped with hollandaise; I love it anyway you can fix it as long as it's fresh.

I'm surprised when I take my little bundle of spears up to a checkout counter and the person at the register asks me to name that vegetable.  There are still many youngsters that have not yet been exposed to the wonder that is Asparagus and there are many older adults who's only exposure to it is from a can.  Like many people, I grew up eating the canned version of this and always thought this was a mushy, squishy vegetable and not particularly good. 

I stood in the checkout line this week behind an elderly gentleman who had a can of asparagus in his cart.  We struck up a conversation and he was shocked to learn that there was a fresh alternative to the can.  I showed him my little bundle and with all the righteous indignation I could muster explained that he needed to put the can back on the shelf and go on a fresh veggie adventure.  And I think I could have made a convert right then and there if I'd had an extra 10 minutes to explain how to cook the fresh version.  He politely thanked me for my wisdom, bought his can of mushy asparagus and promised that next time he'd try to go "fresh".  In hind sight he might well have simply been trying to get away from the crazy vegetable lady standing in line behind him.

Two vegs in cans among all the beans, sauces,
peppers, baking supplies, etc.  Beets are great
sliced in salads, warm for a side dish with a
drizzle of maple syrup.  Creamed corn is one
of those things I still love that Mom used to
serve us when I was a kid.  However, you will
NEVER find a can of asparagus here.
In any case....YES I'm a bit wacky when it comes to fresh vegetables.  Fresh is almost always best.  I have a few exceptions and if you want to keep veggies in the house for use year round, these would be good places to start.  In the pantry, I always keep canned beets.  These are wonderful and much easier than buying fresh.  The only other canned veg I buy is the occasional can of creamed corn.  In the freezer I always have peas, corn, lima beans and mixed vegetables that I use in soups.  Other than those, fresh is the absolute way to go.

ANYWAY....
This broth was something new for me to try
and it turned out to be quite good. 
 Mostly chicken broth, this also
contains white wine and herbs.
Back to my fresh asparagus.  Tonight I added it to some risotto and served it alongside a baked fish fillet.  I looked forward to this all day and it didn't disappoint.

The risotto is cooked to a perfect al dente with just a bit of a bite left and the asparagus can be cooked to your liking...I prefer mine with a little crunch left.  Tonight I used a special broth that I found at the discount store for $.50.  You can substitute straight chicken or vegetable broth, either would be just as delicious.  I also baked my fish in orange juice but it would have been equally as good with the broth I used for the risotto. 

Remember that rice takes about 20-25 minutes to cook overall.  Because of that I got my fish ready for the oven and got it baking before starting to cook the risotto.  I baked my fish in my favorite mini-oven (my toaster oven) and when it was finished with the 20 minutes, the oven turned off and the fish stayed in the oven warming until the risotto was ready.  You can do the same with a regular oven but you'll have to remember to turn off the oven when the time is up.

SIMPLE BAKED FISH FILLET

4 oz. white fish fillet (tilapia or similar)
1/3 cup orange juice
salt, pepper and garlic parsley powder to taste
drizzle of olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In an ovenproof dish, pour in the orange juice and top with fish fillet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a pinch of garlic parsley powder. Drizzle with olive oil and bake in oven for 20 minutes.


When the fish is done, the juice is a bit thickened and can be spooned over the fish on the plate.

SPRINGTIME ASPARAGUS RISOTTO
If you've never made risotto before please give this a try.  It's simple and amazingly delicious.  One secret to keeping the rice cooking throughout the process is to use hot stock or broth.  I simply put mine in a measuring cup and heat it in the microwave.

4 stalks of asparagus, chopped to 1/2 inch pieces, tips set aside
1/4 cup arborio rice
2 tsp. olive oil
1 Tbls. minced shallot
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
3/4 to 1 cup hot broth
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese


In a heavy 6-inch non-stick skillet heat enough water to cover asparagus to boiling, toss in asparagus (except the tips) and let cook two minutes or until cooked to desired doneness.  Add the tips and cook one minute longer. Strain from skillet and set aside.

In a heavy 6-inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil till hot, add garlic and shallot and cook till translucent.  Add the rice and stir in hot oil till all grains are covered and glistening.  Add a touch more oil if necessary.  Cook over medium heat until grains begin to turn translucent around the edges, about 3 minutes.

Add hot broth to the pan 3-4 tablespoons at a time, stir to combine and let cook over medium heat.  Let cook until the broth is absorbed into the rice, stirring occasionally .  Continue to add broth to the pan a little at a time and continue the cooking process in 3-4 batches. 


Once rice has cooked 20-25 minutes until tests done (tasting is always good for this!) add back in the asparagus and stir while reheating.  Add in most of the grated cheese and stir until melted. 

Plate risotto and fish on a warm plate.  Top the risotto with the remaining grated cheese and spoon some of the sauce in the fish dish over the fillet.  I served my dinner with a glass of  Tesoro Vidal Blanc from Gervasi Vineyard in Canton.  It occurred to me as I sipped my wine the it would have worked just as well as the orange juice for cooking the fish tonight.  Feel free to experiment on your own to see if this works. 

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