Monday, May 05, 2008

Green & Tender: Walla Walla Asparagus!

A week ago Sunday about 7:00 am, I was traveling down highway 12 headed toward Mt. Hood and was reminded it was local asparagus time. Yellow crates were spread about the fields and pickers were filling the crates up with tender green spears. If you are a long-time resident of Walla Walla you eventually start taking two things for granted: your fair share of fresh picked asparagus and Walla Walla Sweet Onions. You will find them easily accessible at any produce stand, Saturday Market or free from a farmer friend.

Yesterday I was reminded one more time it was time to buy a "mess" of asparagus when I dropped by Dave and Darrel's Valley Produce in College Place. Gosh, what can’t you do with asparagus? It’s a pretty versatile vegetable and easy to prepare from soup, stir-fry, pickled, grilled, quiche, included with Eggs Benedict, and broiled wrapped in bacon. But my favorite and easiest way is to lightly blanch it. I break the tough ends off (each spear will break at the tender point) and lightly trim up the broken edges with a knife - looks prettier. Start a large pot of water to boiling, add a sprinkling of kosher salt to the water and toss the asparagus in the boiling water. When the spears turn a brilliant green (less than a minute), drain and immediately place the tender spears in a container filled with ice water - ice included. This will immediately stop the cooking of the asparagus giving you a nice crunch to the vegetable. However, don’t let the spears sit in the water as they can turn slimy. Drain well and serve chilled.

Now, you will need something to dip those tender spears in. I have many favored mayo-based concoctions that I prepare - - from a curry flavored to Dijon mustard. Last night I prepared a dip using AJ’s Dill Flavored Walla Walla Sweet Onion Mustard. Easy to prepare, remembering one part good mayonnaise (Best Foods/Hellmans or even better, make your own) and one part AJ’s Dill Flavored Walla Walla Sweet Onion Mustard. You can make it in tablespoon quantities or by the cup - - mix together and voila - dip! It will keep up to a week in the refrigerator - - umm...if you don’t eat it in one sitting.

For a classic vinaigrette, instead of Dijon use AJ’s Walla Walla Sweet Onion Mustard. It makes a great salad dressing, which is tasty drizzled over chilled asparagus or makes a great grilling marinade for veggies: 1 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup AJ’s Walla2 Mustard, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper and kosher salt or no salt to taste. In bowl, whisk together the oil, mustard, vinegar and pepper and salt. Serve immediately or cover and store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

So we need some wine to drink with this and yes, wine can pair with asparagus no matter what you have heard. I think it pairs best with crisp whites such as very lightly oaked or steel tank-fermented Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Before the season leaves us, check out the fresh Walla Walla asparagus now! Not only are these spears (and no we aint talking Britney) healthy for you, being a good source of folic acid, potassium and dietary fiber, but it’s also known to be an aphrodisiac.

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