Monday, January 23, 2012

Asparagus with Mushrooms, Grape Tomatoes, and Parsley

If there's one vegetable you can count on throughout the year, it's asparagus.  While, admittedly, the asparagus you can find locally in season is, by far, the best, most of the time you can get by and be pretty happy with the offerings at the grocery store.  I'm not sure how far-flung the produce section necessarily has to search for asparagus in January - maybe California, maybe Mexico, maybe farther south.

Regardless, chances are good you'll find decent asparagus on any given grocery day.  A couple tips, though. Asparagus stalks should be firm, the ends compact and lacking the sort of mushy, shiny appearance they can take on when they're getting a little old.  You'll want to store asparagus in the refrigerator, either cutting the ends like flower stems and placing in a cup of water or leaving them loosely wrapped in the produce bag, popping a hole in the bag to ensure good air circulation, and you'll need to use asparagus within a couple days.  I've gone five days with a really fresh bunch, but three days really is the rule of thumb.

Asparagus can be cooked many different ways. It can be poached, steamed, roasted, grilled, sauteed, or just munched on raw.  Whatever floats your boat.  If you do decide to cook your asparagus, as with most veggies, the shorter your cook time, the less chance you have of an overdone, limp vegetable that never even heard of being green.  Now, I'm a fan from way back of poaching asparagus with a couple cloves of garlic, some salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, until it takes on a sort of olive-green tone after about 45 minutes. I'm not sure how much nutritional value remains at the end of the cooking process, but I have a soft spot in my heart for this particular style of cooking.

My mom used to poach an egg in the pan for good measure.  I never quite understood that part.  But then, eggs and I generally don't get along when they're present outside of cakes, cookies, and brownies.

However, I needed a quicker fix for some asparagus.  I've done the roasting process, but I wanted to shake it up a bit.  I also had some mushrooms and grape tomatoes that needed to be used.  So I got a little experimental.

Asparagus with Mushrooms, Grape Tomatoes, and Parsley

  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • 5-6 white button mushrooms
  • 20-25 grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Flour and water roux
  • Cracked black pepper

Wash asparagus spears and trim ends.  Slice the mushrooms.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat butter and oils over medium high heat.

Saute mushrooms until tender and browned, about eight to ten minutes.

Reduce heat to medium.  Add asparagus to skillet.  Saute gently for five minutes, moving asparagus around with a silicon spatula.

Add grape tomatoes.  Saute another two to three minutes.

Reduce heat to medium low.  Add chicken broth, lemon juice, and pepper to taste.  Allow to simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, wash parsley and chop or snip with kitchen shears.  Set aside.  Also, make a flour and water roux (about two tablespoons of flour, slowly whisk in cold water until a smooth paste forms - you want it to be thick but still liquid).

Remove vegetables from skillet to a serving plate.  Cover to keep warm. (It's not necessary to remove every single mushroom and tomato).  Increase heat to medium high, bringing liquids to a boil.

Slowly whisk in the roux.  Heat for no more than two minutes to cook the flour, stirring constantly.

Stir in the parsley, cook for one minute more.

Pour sauce over asparagus on the serving plate.

This is excellent with chicken or fish.  If you want to get fancier, a splash of white wine along with the chicken broth and lemon juice will give the sauce a tangy kick.

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