Spring brings fresh asparagus

Spring brings fresh asparagus

Local fruits and veggies will start making an appearance at the farmers’ markets

  • Apr. 23, 2017 7:00 p.m.

Spring seems to have been long in coming this year, and until I start seeing dandelions, I’m inclined to dispute it has actually arrived.

Spring is my favourite season, reminding me of promised new life and hope. It gives me a hands-on way to be a part of creation and I’m always grateful for these opportunities.

May will be bringing us fresh asparagus, so now is the time to use up what we have left in the freezer. The delicate and creamy asparagus soup (below) tastes wonderfully luxurious, yet it’s made without heavy cream — just vegetables, broth and a hint of cheese puréed to silky perfection. Wild morels will be popping up in a few weeks in burnt areas of the forest and I enjoy hunting for them. The lasagne recipe below adds these wonderful mushrooms for a delicate flavour.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon and Parmesan

2 bunches asparagus (about 2-1/4 pounds)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

6 cups low sodium chicken broth

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Handful fresh herbs, such as thyme, dill or basil (optional, for garnish)

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the tips off of the asparagus spears and set aside. (If making from frozen asparagus use all the spears and cut all into 1/2 inch pieces.) Cut the remaining spears into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the chopped asparagus (except for the tips) to the pot, along with the chicken broth, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn heat down to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes until vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the reserved asparagus tips for a few minutes until tender-crisp. Drain and refresh under cold water or in an ice bath. Set aside.

Purée the soup in a food processor or a blender until completely smooth. Return the soup to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Stir in the lemon juice and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if desired (you may need up to a teaspoon more salt). Ladle the soup into bowls, then top each bowl with asparagus tips, fresh chopped herbs, more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Lasagne with Asparagus, Leeks, and Morels

2 tablespoons (¼ stick) butter, divided

2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

1 pound thick asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces fresh morel mushrooms, rinsed, coarsely chopped, or 5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

3½ cups low-salt chicken broth

1½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 bay leaf

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1- 9-ounce package no-cook lasagne noodles (12 noodles)

1¼ cups finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks; cook until wilted, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet. Add asparagus, mushrooms and thyme. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add to bowl with leeks and toss to distribute evenly. Add broth, cream and bay leaf to same skillet and boil over high heat until slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and whisk to blend. Boil until sauce thickens, about 1 minute, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in nutmeg; discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Do ahead: Vegetables and sauce can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat four 2-cup shallow oval or round baking dishes with nonstick spray. Break off corners of noodles to fit flatly into dishes. Spoon ¼ cup sauce into each dish. Place 1 noodle atop sauce. Scatter ¼ cup vegetable mixture over, spreading in even layer. Drizzle 2 tablespoons sauce over. Sprinkle rounded tablespoonful cheese over each. Repeat layering 2 more times with noodles, vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Drizzle remaining sauce over lasagnas.

Cover each dish tightly with foil. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until noodles are tender, about 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving. Delicious!

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

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