Grilled, roasted or boiled, it's that time of the year for fresh Valley-grown asparagus.
As the weather begins to warm, spears of asparagus are pushing their way out of the ground, ready for harvesting. During peak season, asparagus can grow up to 7 inches a day.
Longtime grower Steve Couture, of Couture Farms in Huron, said this years' crop should be in ample supply in the coming weeks.
Couture's wife, Christina, sells at the Vineyard Farmers Market on the northwest corner of Shaw and Blackstone avenues. The market is open on Saturday mornings, 7 a.m. to noon, and on Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m.
"Things are surprisingly good right now and we should have a good crop," Steve Couture says.
Shoppers can also find locally grown asparagus at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Farmers Market, 7300 N. Fresno St. The market is open Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Lydia Murray of Fresno is a big fan of asparagus and can hardly wait for the springtime veggie to arrive at the farmers markets.
"This time of year, I will eat it every single day until the local asparagus season is over," says Murray, an avid home cook. "It has such a unique flavor, and you can use it in so many different things."
Chefs say asparagus is a versatile vegetable, but it can easily be overcooked.
Chris Shackelford of Trelio restaurant in Clovis says well-cooked asparagus should be slightly crunchy in the center, not mushy.
To prepare, make sure to cut the woody end off the spear. Shackelford cuts his asparagus just at the point where the diameter begins to get bigger. And he prefers boiling as a cooking method.
One of the keys to well-cooked asparagus is making sure your pot of water has come to a vigorous boil. And don't overcrowd them in the pot. Shackelford only cooks six to eight spears at a time.
Thinner asparagus should be ready in about 2 minutes, thicker pieces should take about 4 minutes.
Once done, immediately remove the asparagus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking.
"What you also get is asparagus that has a nice dark green color," Shackelford says. "Instead of that washed-out color."
Another way to enjoy asparagus is to roast it in the oven. One simple method is to place the asparagus on a backing sheet and drizzle olive oil over the spears, making sure the vegetables are coated with a thin layer. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Experts recommend using the fatter spears, cooking them for about 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees.
Local restaurateurs are also taking full advantage of asparagus season. At the Manhattan Steakhouse & Bar, 1731 W. Bullard Ave. in Fresno, the warm asparagus salad is a popular item.
The dish includes grilled asparagus, field greens, red onions, capers, pancetta vinaigrette, topped with a poached egg.
"This time of year, we sell a lot of that salad," says Karyn Milutinovich, one of the Manhattan's owners.
Asparagus, avocado and coppa salad with white truffle oil dressing
16 spears asparagus (preferably with a small diameter)
8 slices coppa (cut into long strips)
1 avocado (diced)
4 ounces arugula
2 hardboiled egg yolks (chopped)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon white alba truffle oil (available at specialty food stores including Sur La Table)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch cayenne pepper
For the dressing: Blend all ingredients together and season with salt and white pepper to taste.
For the salad: Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a boil. Prepare a large-enough ice bath to shock the asparagus. Trim the wooden ends off of the asparagus. Carefully add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until they turn a bright green (2 to 4 minutes depending on the diameter). Remove immediately into the ice bath and allow to cool completely. In a large mixing bowl add the coppa, avocado, egg yolks and arugula and enough of the dressing to fully coat. Place four asparagus spears on each plate and drizzle with the remainder of the dressing. Toss the salad and place a handful on top of each plate. Lightly season whole plate with fresh ground pepper.
-- Trelio Restaurant
Asparagus, pistachio and chevre gratin
16 spears asparagus
1/4 cup toasted pistachios (chopped)
1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko
1 log fresh chevre (goat's milk cheese)
1/4 cup chopped chives
Fresh ground pepper and salt
Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a boil. Trim the wooden ends off of the asparagus.
Carefully add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until they turn a bright green (2 to 4 minutes depending on the diameter).
Transfer to a baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble chevre on top of asparagus as evenly as possible. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and pistachios on top of chevre. Place in broiler for 1 to 3 minutes until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately. Could also be garnished with crispy pancetta or bacon.
-- Trelio Restaurant