Spring has arrived, the sounds of lawnmowers trill the air on Sunday mornings and all the new green vegetables are coming back into season. Asparagus is leaping onto restaurant menus with a fervor reserved for royalty. For as long as I can remember, I’ve revered asparagus as an upscale vegetable. Maybe because when my sister and I decided to boycott it as young kids – back when we called it “a-scary-bus” – my mom insisted that it was the “rich people” of green veggies. She vowed that the richest people in the world only ate the velvety tips (conveniently the part we were avoiding). Once we got hooked, we’d even have stalk races to see who could chew from the bottom end to the coveted tip in the fasted chomping possible. Now that I’m an adult with a 6 yr. old of my own, I’m not encouraging competitive eating so much as explaining how classic and versatile asparagus can be; the vegetable version of a pearl necklace. Lucky for me, it has never occurred to Trenton not to like asparagus, so we try to serve it as often as possible while it’s in season.
Growing asparagus in the garden is a long-term investment, because you can’t harvest it in the first year. But if you take care of it, it will take care of you, coming back perennially for an amazing 25 years or more. If you don’t have access to an asparagus bed in your back yard, you’re going to have to hit the grocery stores, and often, because this is a vegetable with a high respiration rate, which means it’s more perishable than most other veggies and should be consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Not a problem at our house.
A slight variation on “no problem” regarding asparagus comes into play when someone – usually the 6 year old – hollers “PEEEE YOU! What smells?” after using the bathroom, after eating asparagus. The fun fact of asparagusic acid apparently gives your urine that unique odor. The theory is that not everyone can smell it, but pretty much everyone in our family can. So while we are conserving water and tend to follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” rule, we make a few exceptions during asparagus season. Some people suggest discarding the tips, prior to eating, since that’s apparently where the highest stink-factor regards. The royalty part?! That’s just crazy talk right there.
These days, asparagus can make an appearance for all three meals of the day. A great way to mix up breakfast for the whole family is an asparagus quiche. Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning, or you can make it ahead of time and cut it in slices for quick, healthy weekday breakfasts. This twist on a classic uses spaghetti squash as a crust, which adds extra vitamin C and fiber and makes for a terrific gluten-free option as well. Asparagus brings with it more vitamin C, and K, B1 and B2, folate and copper. And it’s only 40 calories per cup. This crust comes together in minutes, and will have you looking like the cutting edge culinary genius that you are. Plus, it’s so easy that a child can make it with just a little supervision. I love it when I can put other people to work in my kitchen and then sit back and reap the benefits.
Gluten Free Asparagus Quiche with Spaghetti Squash Crust
1/2 lb. raw asparagus
½ small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 t olive oil
1 C milk
1 C grated cheese of your preference (Swiss? Jack? Gouda?)
3 cups cooked spaghetti squash (1 small squash)
Salt & pepper
To prepare the spaghetti squash, cut it in half and bake face down on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. (Or face down in a glass pie plate in the microwave for 8-10 minutes.) Meanwhile, lightly sauté the onion and garlic until just golden/translucent. Toss the seeds and use a fork to scrape up the tender ‘spaghetti’ strands. Toss 3 C with 2 T olive oil and press the whole heap into a 9″round pie pan, onto the bottom and up the sides. Pack it well so it holds together tightly.
For the filling, whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, cheese, and onion and garlic. Pour them into the squash crust you made, and then top with asparagus in any pattern you want. Since the quiche will cook for 40 minutes, do not sauté the asparagus ahead of time. This will ensure that it is crisp and tender and not overcooked. After 40 minutes at 400 degrees you will have a perfectly firm crust and tender filling. Mission accomplished: delicious breakfast that packs more than a full serving of vegetables.
When it comes time for dinner, and you’re looking for something quick, it can be tempting to turn to unhealthy, processed options. Do yourself and your family a favor: grab the rest of that asparagus out of the fridge and go for something that includes all the food groups. In 15 minutes you can whip up Asparagus Pasta Carbonara. This light, GF dish is a substantially less artery-clogging variation than the classic dish I had in Italy last May. Because let’s face it, we can’t always be on vacation. However, we certainly can and should pair this pasta with a crisp Italian white wine. You know, to be respectful of Italian tradition.
Asparagus Pasta Carbonara
1/2 lb. asparagus
12 oz. rice noodles (long and thin work best), or brown rice spaghetti
8 slices of soy bacon diced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs (or substitute soft tofu for vegan)
3/4 C shaved Parmesan or vegan substitute
1/2 C milk (cow, soy, almond, etc.)
Salt & pepper
Before you start, get all your ingredients sliced, diced, and ready to go.
This recipe is all about timing, and the timing is very quick. Ready, set, go! While waiting for your pasta water to boil, cook your soy bacon over medium heat. After a few minutes, add chopped onions, garlic, and asparagus. Let them all sauté together for 5-7 minutes while the pasta cooks. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper, Parmesan, and milk. When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pan, removed from heat. Here’s where you need to act quickly. Add the veggies and bacon mixture and slowly stir the egg mixture into the pasta. Do not stop stirring. I repeat, DO NOT stop stirring! It will ensure that the pasta all gets coated and does not stick together. It will also make sure that the heat evenly cooks the egg.
When it’s done you shouldn’t have scrambled eggs, but you shouldn’t have raw eggs either. As long as you add the eggs immediately after returning the pasta to the pan you should have no problem getting it to be perfect. Top each serving with parsley and shaved Parmesan, and toss together some mixed greens for the side. Cheers to you master chef; you’ve outdone yourself once again.