For asparagus, fresh is best
Charles Lamb, the English essayist, once said “asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.” I heartily agree — but also add that they taste great, too.
Local asparagus season is in full swing. If you are not an asparagus fan, I can guarantee you’ve never eaten one that was sold the same day it was picked. With fresh asparagus there is no need to discard half the stalk or peel them. I grew up eating them raw straight from the garden.
Asparagus are best eaten the day they are bought. If that’s not possible, store them as if they were fresh-cut flowers.
Trim about a half inch from the ends and place them in a glass with about an inch of water. Cover them loosely with a plastic wrap, and place them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. They will stay good for about four days.
I like the flavor that roasting vegetables produces, especially for asparagus. The roasting process caramelizes the natural sugars, leading to vegetables that are crisp on the outside while being tender on the inside with a sweetened flavor that entices the taste buds.
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For roasting, I prefer the thicker ones. They stand up better to the heat of the oven and still hold their shape after cooking.
Although roasted asparagus by themselves make a great side dish, I like to pair them with pan-fried gnocchi for a quick dinner. Along with some aromatics, lemon zest and tarragon, it is a meal that shouts spring.
When buying gnocchi for pan frying, look for the refrigerated type. The shelf stable packaged gnocchi tend to dry out when frying. My favorite brand is Rana Skillet Gnocchi, which are precooked and perfect for sauteing.
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Gnocchi With Asparagus
- 1 pound asparagus
- 1 bunch leeks (white part only)
- Salt and pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 12-ounce package of refrigerated gnocchi
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- Zest of one lemon
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash and trim the asparagus. Cut them on the diagonal into 4-inch lengths. Slice the leeks into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Place the asparagus and leeks in a bowl and toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of pepper. Place the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
In a large frying pan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Over medium-high heat, add the gnocchi and cook until lightly browned. Add the asparagus leek mixture, chopped tarragon and lemon zest. Mix to combine.
Serve immediately, topped with the Parmesan cheese.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.