There are more than a couple of us early birds at the University Farmers Market every Saturday morning. Even when it’s hard to get out of bed, I like being there just before the bell rings, experiencing the vendors setting up, taking their last few sips of coffee before meeting the public. This week as we gathered in front of Alm Hill, I noticed a basket of the first asparagus of the season. I’d been wondering when we’d see asparagus make it’s debut this year. Looking back I found the date I wrote about it last year — May 7.
Anxious to get into the rhythm of the season, I could hardly wait to buy my first bunch. Who would’ve ever thought I could get so excited by a bunch of asparagus. And yet, as I made my way around the market, I found several other asparagus vendors and couldn’t resist buying more. (The prices do vary so you may want to stroll around first).
Okay, so I have several bunches of asparagus, now what? First of all, size makes a difference. The larger stalks are perfect for roasting and the thin stalks can be lightly blanched. Either way, I have two surprisingly simple appetizers to serve at that spring cocktail party you’ve been meaning to have.
You can start by wrapping. Break off the tough ends of thin asparagus. Blanch spears in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes (longer if the stalks are thick). Remove right away and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Place on a clean towel to dry. Put in a large bowl with some fresh greens — I used mizuna and sunflower sprouts but arugula, spinach or watercress would also be good choices. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top, a good shot or two of olive oil and some lemon zest. Toss gently.
Lay out 4 slices of prosciutto, overlapping as you go. Place a handful of the asparagus salad on the upper third of the meat. Begin rolling tightly as you would a sushi roll. Cut into about 6 bite-sized pieces. Thanks to Mark Bittman for this brilliant idea.
For a vegetarian alternative, I’m anxious to try rice paper wraps. I like to serve both the wraps and the rolls with a dipping sauce using a couple spoonfuls of mayo mixed with my yogurt cream cheese with chives. I could imagine all sorts of dips — maybe one of Sally’s fabulous salad dressings — blue cheese, sweet & sour, they’re all good.
For the larger stalks, roasting and rolling is the deal.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Break off the tough ends of each stalk. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. I like to rub the stalks around and make sure they are well coated. Roast for 10 minutes or so.
Remove from the oven and let cool.
Roll one slice of prosciutto around each stalk asparagus. You may want to leave several plain as well.
It turns out having lots of asparagus is a good thing because now I have enough left to make Sally’s Risotto Primavera. I had some last week and have been thinking about it ever since.