On Sunday I was beginning to think that there was a cosmic misunderstanding about the concept of “spring.”
No, “spring” does NOT mean “spring a gigantic leak in the heavens above.” It means the wonderful, hopeful, joyous season between winter and summer. A time of new growth and renewal. A time where days get longer, not wetter.
Here in Culver City, spring is also a time for literary and artistic creativity. April 1 – no joke – is International Edible Books Day. If you don’t believe me, check out the Culver City Friends of the Library website at ccfol.org. Our Culver City celebration is coming up on April 3. I’ll be strolling up and down Main Street this afternoon, looking for culinary inspiration for my entry. So many ideas, and only one entry per person. Will I go for something elaborate, like a cake decorated with the cover image of a Caldecott Award winning picture book, or a very bad visual pun? Come to the free festival on April 3 from 1 to 3:30 pm at Gyenari on Culver Blvd. and find out. Better yet, sign up and enter yourself. There are categories for adults, teens and children, so your whole family can share in the fun. As another incentive, winners will receive gift certificates from local restaurants, including Gyenari … and gift certificates for pizza will be awarded to the winner of the teen (13-18) and children (12 and under) categories, with a $100 gift certificate for the best of show chosen by audience vote.
Spring has another association for college students: spring break!
Last March my friend John left the frozen shores of Lake Michigan and the chilly campus of the University of Chicago to come home to Venice, California for a week. I was lucky enough to be one of the guests at the vegetarian dinner party he hosted. Nearly a year later, I still remember his wonderful roasted asparagus spears with olive oil and parmesan cheese, and am looking forward to this Friday’s feast.
Asparagus is the quintessential spring vegetable. A perennial, it is best when harvested young. It can be steamed, stir-fried, roasted, pureed with cream or other ingredients to make a wonderful soup, or combined with a bit of sauce and pasta for a delicious vegetarian main dish. You can find it canned or pickled on supermarket shelves, or served raw in salads.
I’d never roasted asparagus before, but watching John prepping the stalks as we stood around enjoying wine, cheese and olives gave me the confidence to try it at home. Here are some easy-to-follow instructions which demystify the process.
a bunch of fresh asparagus (John used the thin stalks, which cook up faster)
shredded parmesan cheese (grate your own or use pre-grated)
salt (Kosher if you have it, freshly ground rock salt if you want to impress your guests, or plain old iodized salt straight from the box)
freshly ground pepper
Wash the asparagus. Trim, or snap off, the thick ends of the stems. Grate the parmesan if you are using freshly grated cheese. Cover large sheet pan with aluminum foil, and place asparagus spears on top of the foil. Drizzle on some olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the sheet pan under the broiler and cook until the asparagus is nearly done. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top of the asparagus. Broil an additional 2-3 minutes until the cheese is melted and a bit crispy. Remove from oven and serve warm.
There are a few clouds off on the horizon. My fingers are crossed that our good weather will hold long enough for all of us to dry out. But if it turns cold and rainy again, a savory bowl of asparagus, leek and herb soup will stave off the chill. Clancy Morrison ruled the dining hall kitchen of Occidental College with legendary style and a collection of recipes that couldn’t be beat. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I began to notice a distinct pattern. On day one, asparagus would be the featured vegetable on the cafeteria line. On day two, you’d find a little bit of asparagus as an alternate vegetable on the serving line. Day three would bring cream of asparagus soup. Clancy was nothing if not thrifty, practical and creative. I wonder what she would think of this updated, low-calorie, herb-seasoned version of her old standby.
Asparagus, leek and herb soup
1 T. or more extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. new yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2 c.chicken or vegetable broth
1 lb. fresh asparagus, thick ends snapped off, stalks cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 c. sugar snap peas, stems removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 T. chopped fresh chives, divided
2 T. chopped Italian (flat-leaf ) parsley
1 T. chopped fresh dill
2 tsp. chopped fresh chervil (if unavailable, use a little more parsley)
2 c. low fat milk
1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (Eureka lemons are better for this recipe)
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/3 c. low-fat plain Greek-style yogurt
parsley and/or chervil sprigs for garnish
If I have time, I will take the asparagus trimmings, stems from the sugar snap peas and parsley and simmer in water to make a vegetable broth. I cook my potatoes skin on, as the part of the potato closest to the skin contains the most nutrients. But if you prefer your potatoes peeled, add the peels to the other trimmings before you simmer them. Strain the broth, measure 2 cups of it and set aside. If you are short of time, canned low-sodium broth is fine.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, until they are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for about a minute more. The add the potatoes and broth; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Then, increase heat to medium-high and stir in asparagus and peas;. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until just tender, an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in 1 tablespoon of the chives, the parsley, dill and chopped chervil (or additional parsley). Transfer some of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Repeat until all of it is blended. Remember that it is better to blend several smaller batches of hot soup than one large one (you don’t want that hot liquid splashing up and out of the blender, do you?) You could also use an immersion blender if you have one. Once all the vegetables, herbs and liquid are blended, return the soup to the pan. Add the low fat milk. Bring to just below a simmer, stirring, over medium heat. Stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt, a sprinkling of the remaining chopped chives and a sprig of chervil (or parsley).
The Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market is held, rain or shine, on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. From 2 to 7 pm. The Culver South Farmers Market is held from 7:30 a.m.. to 1 pm on Saturdays in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City shopping center parking lot at Hannum and Slauson.
Katie Malich’s Aunt Frances grew asparagus along the side of her Flagstaff, Arizona, home. Amazing taste, hearty perennials. Yum.
Editor’s Note- Free idea – Here’s an Edible Book entry- how about Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” made out of …asparagus?