The eternal optimist

I'm looking forward to riding my bike down to the Green City Market this weekend to get inspired by spring produce and fill my basket with as much as it will carry.  I've got special plans for rhubarb and artichokes.  After watching Michael J. Fox's show tonight, I've confirmed what I already knew... I am an eternal optimist.  I hope that I find the best fruit and veggies at the market and that the rain will stay away.  In the meantime, I haven't been able to help myself from buying asparagus in large bunches and cooking them in a variety of ways.  This recent experiment has led me to believe that I prefer them roasted instead of steamed, but there is a time and a place at my table for both.  I also have decided that I love the fat asparagus compared to the skinny little spears.  Although the fine spears are pretty and rather delicate, I find that roasting the big ones come out tender and juicy.

Upon searching through my Dad's bookshelves about a month ago, when we were cooking together, I found an old copy of a book called Domestic Cookery.  When I say old, I mean it was published in 1888.  As usual, I gave him a look that only daughters can give fathers and he told me it was mine.  

The book was written by Mary J. Pulte, a doctor's wife, and was intended as a practical guide in the preparation of food for the well and the sick.  I found the foreward incredibly endearing as it mentions that she wrote it in memory of her late husband and that proceeds went to the Ohio Hospital for Women and Children.  It's written in extremely straightforward terms, as one might imagine instructions on how to build flat-packed furniture.  Some of my favorites in the book are: "Tongue Salad (Excellent)".  Seriously, it says the word excellent in the title.  "How to Know a Young Turkey- if the lower joints of the legs are a dark red, it is young.  If they're white, it is an old one. This is a sure sign."  I don't even want to think about that one.

Don't get me wrong, there are many edible and delicious entries and I adore looking through collections like this to see where our modern day cooking came from.  There is one entry for asparagus.  It calls for boiling several bunches of trimmed asparagus in salted water until almost tender.  Meanwhile, heat half a pint of rich, sweet milk and 2 tbsp of fresh butter.  When the milk is hot, stir in 2 tsp of flour.  Lay the asparagus in the milk and let it simmer slowly until it's tender.

Here are a few other suggestions on what to do with your spring asparagus that I have tried, tested and devoured.  I like Jamie Oliver's ideas from his book, Jamie at Home, and I've taken some of these and adapted them to my own tastes.

Prepare your asparagus by snapping the woody end off of each spear.

1. Wrap asparagus in slices of prosciutto, lay on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and roast at  425 F for 10 minutes.  Dip into soft boiled eggs with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 

2. Slice one shallot finely and cover with 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar.  Leave for 5-10 minutes.  Combine 1 tsp of French mustard, 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the shallots and vinegar, salt and pepper.  Steam asparagus for 5-6 minutes until tender, but not falling apart, cover with vinaigrette and chopped herb of your choice.

3. Thinly slice 1 lemon.  Put asparagus spears on a baking sheet and lay the slices of lemon over the asparagus.  Season with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Bake at 425F for 10 minutes.  The lemon will caramelize slightly while roasting.  Meanwhile, melt 1 tbsp of butter and smash up one handful of mint in a pestle and mortar.  Combine the mint and butter and pour liberally over the cooked asparagus.  If you're in the mood for some spicy, de-seed and finely chop some red chilli and add to the butter.  

Sometimes I like to add a couple of vine ripened tomatoes on the baking sheet - they will just start to pop and add to the juicy sauce when served together.

4.  You'll need the fat spears for this.  Grill asparagus over hot coals until they're marked on both sides and tender.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, a generous drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Take a vegetable peeler and shave Parmesan or Pecorino over the asparagus. 

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