Spring

grilledasparagusThis is the perfect time of year to serve fresh asparagus and one great method for cooking is an indoor grill pan.

I generally prefer the thin stalks for steaming and fat stalks for grilling, but use whatever you want – fat, thin, green or white. Choose bunches with tightly closed tips and no flowering.

Delicious asparagus depends on freshness and proper preparation. Pan grilling gives you slightly charred stalks with delicious brown spots that you get from roasting or barbecuing without having to heat up your oven or grill.

The lemon vinaigrette enhances the dish perfectly and adds to the bright fresh flavor of the asparagus.

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coconut-tapioca-pudding-with-strawberries-and-basil-summer-in-a-jarIt's Spring, but you really wouldn't know it where I live. The rain has been relentless. But strawberries are in season and the stores are filled with rows and rows of these beauties.

Have you ever paired strawberry and basil together? It's a magical combination. Couple that with a vanilla infused coconut pudding and you'll swear you've been transported to an island somewhere.

This is a lovely way to end dinner or a brunch, it's pretty too!

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easyasparahusWhile I wait (and wait) for our local asparagus, it occurs to me that everyone else is not waiting. The grocery stores are full of asparagus (from elsewhere, wherever that is) and it is hard to walk down the produce aisles without snatching up a bunch. I understand, really I do, and that is probably why my two blogs on asparagus from last year are getting hit up a lot these days. So okay, I can’t be my stubborn self and wait another month to offer up more asparagus recipes. Especially because there are about a gazillion different ways to cook asparagus—almost all of them pretty darn quick—so I can come back to this provocative vegetable again. Soon.

While I love quick-braising and sautéing asparagus, I think the method that may be the absolute speediest may offer up some of the best flavor, too. It’s stir-frying. Two to three minutes, and you’ve got a beguiling roasty-toasty flavor and a nice crisp-tender texture. A few keys here: Slice the asparagus thinly on the bias for the best browning; don’t use a lot of fat; keep the heat cranked up. (I love the bowl shape of my non-stick stir-fry pan, but you can substitute with a nonstick skillet—just stir more frequently.)

I like to include a bit of garlic, some sliced scallions or shallots (as in the recipe below), or a combo of ginger and garlic in an asparagus stir-fry—but not much more. I don’t make a finishing pan sauce for it, in order to let that pure flavor shine through. (I do, however, sometimes like a cool, creamy garnish for this dish—crème frâiche is lovely.)

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asparagiWe bought our house in Umbria ten years ago this past summer.

A couple of months after the sale was completed the former owners, Bruno and Mayes, came over for lunch. And as the lunch lingered, as lunches in Umbria do, Bruno interrupted himself in mid-lecture on the glories of Roman pasta.

“Asparagi,” he said calmly. He got up from his chair, crossed over to the wall of our ancient wood-burning oven and snapped off a pencil-thin spear of wild asparagus that was hiding in and among the other grasses.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “April is the time. You’ll see hundreds of contadini in the fields and by the side of the road, harvesting them. Here, taste.”

I bit off the end of the slender stalk and chewed on it a bit. It was raw, of course, and a little stringy but the taste fairly attacked me with its vibrancy. Wild asparagus is way wilder than tame asparagus.

“Just imagine,” I thought, “how it’ll make my pee smell.”

With that noble scientific quest in mind, I immediately began to search for more. I looked all around the forno, where Bruno found his and then up the hill toward the olive trees, but there were no more spears to be found.

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asparagusquiche.jpg One of the first signs that spring has arrived is the availability of bright green vegetables, like asparagus. There is something special about an asparagus spear emerging from the ground. Right now asparagus is available at the Union square Greenmarket. In the supermarket it's available all-year round, but the best time to get pencil-thin asparagus is during springtime. It's at its most tender and succulent. Steamed for a few minutes, roasted, or grilled, asparagus is a delightful vegetable prepared in any which way. Its color becomes vivid green after cooking and for me that represents the essence of spring.

I enjoy eating asparagus in many forms, but I like it most in quiche, one of the favorite brunch foods here in the States. Though the French even eat it for lunch or dinner. Quiche was originally meant just for breakfast in the French province of Lorraine, from where it originated. Surprisingly the tradition of quiche-making comes from a time when Lorraine belonged to Germany. The dish used to be called kuchen, which is German for cake, and instead of a pie crust, it was made with bread dough—basically a pizza. Once the region changed rule, the German name was eventually transliterated into French and the recipe changed too. The most well-known recipe is Quiche Lorraine, filled with just bacon.

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