Nothing says "spring has sprung" like the arrival of asparagus.
Before you can store your sweaters, this army of green men push through the dirt and leap onto grocery shelves across the country.
In gourmet markets, you have a choice of three types: green, white or purple asparagus. Green is the most common, white is mildest and purple the sweetest.
White asparagus is colorless because growers cover the spears with dirt as they mature, limiting their exposure to sunlight. Purple asparagus is bred for color and sweetness, but will become green when cooked.
Choose asparagus with tight, conical heads and round bodies. Many prefer thick asparagus to thin, as it's more tender and less fibrous -- although in our fat-phobic society, diners tend to find these less visually appealing.
Asparagus is happiest standing tall in the refrigerator with damp feet. Wrap the bottoms in a moist paper towel, or better yet, stand the bunch in a glass filled with half an inch of water. To prepare the asparagus, remove the bottom inch (the part that's dry and fibrous). If you leave the bunch banded, you can remove the ends with one graceful slice.
Enjoy asparagus raw or cooked; steam or poach it until the stalks are vivid green and just-tender (about 4 to 7 minutes), drizzled with hollandaise sauce. Roasting or grilling asparagus will sweeten the stalks; cook for no more than 8 to 12 minutes, depending on their thickness. To enjoy asparagus raw, thinly slice on a mandolin (very carefully, use a hand guard) or with a vegetable peeler.
The French, who know a thing or two about seasonal cooking, enjoy their sweet spring asparagus raw. To bring out the best in this reputed aphrodisiac, they partner asparagus with a more feminine amorous edible, the anchovy. Enjoy with someone you love.
Asparagus Tangle With Anchovy Vinaigrette
2 anchovies, rinsed and drained
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons very good extra virgin olive oil
1 pound assorted thick asparagus (purple, green and white)
1/2 cup Parmesan curls
To prepare the vinaigrette: In the bowl of a small food processor, add anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture becomes a puree. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil; season to taste with salt and pepper.
To prepare the asparagus: Lay the asparagus on a cutting board, and shave with a vegetable peeler, starting at the widest part of the stalk. Continue until all the asparagus has been shaved into thin strips.
Toss the asparagus with the vinaigrette and season with additional pepper. Place on individual serving plates and garnish with Parmesan curls.
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