Monday, April 11, 2011

Three Easy and Fresh Spring Dishes, Featuring Asparagus and Morels

Though I'm behind (i.e. up to my ears in baking) I have three quick meatless meals to share with you, and this week they all feature two of my favorite signs of spring: asparagus and morel mushrooms.  Though neither has made an appearance in Iowa just yet, they're already everywhere in warmer climates and I know you're more than ready to put them to good use.
This is one of my favorite aspects of seasonal cooking: the excitement of a food coming into season.  Americans are SO good at waiting for certain dishes to come into season, but fail to adopt the concept for so many others.  Consider pumpkin pie.  When was the last time you had one outside of your Thanksgiving meal?  If somebody showed up to a 4th of July BBQ with a pumpkin pie in hand, how would you react?  This is how I feel when I see someone eating a strawberry in December.
I'm not suggesting that out-of-season food is a terrible thing.  What I am suggesting is that we could all benefit from waiting for foods to reach their peak season and then celebrating them in their full glory when they're abundant.

First, I'll show you the two ways I like to deal with morel mushrooms.  Then I'll show you two quick, healthy, easy dishes using asparagus.

I was lucky enough two years ago to stumble upon (literally) a good batch of morel mushrooms.
If you don't eat meat, you MUST get your hands on some of these mushrooms this spring.  Find someone who has a spot or beg someone for some of your own, because these taste as meaty and delicious as mushrooms get.  Since their flavor is so unique and nuanced, I recommend doing as little to them as possible.
I first made breadcrumbs and fried them up.  (Sorry this photo is ugly, but it still makes me drool.)
I also just fried them in butter with salt and pepper.  This was the best.  
If you want to read more about my morel find, check out that post.
In that same post, I shared my recipe/technique for an asparagus frittata with shitake mushrooms and miso.  I started with onions, shitakes, chives, and a big bunch of asparagus in a cast iron pan.  Then, I added eggs, some milk, and some miso.  After putting some cheese on top, I put the whole thing into the oven and baked until it was firm in the middle.  Check the post for more details, and drool over this photo.
Finally, here's my recipe for the quickest and easiest asparagus soup.  It's done in 15 minutes and is the perfect way to showcase how creamy asparagus can be.  The recipe:

15 Minute Asparagus Soup
one bunch of asparagus, chopped
one medium yellow onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
Heat up a couple tablespoons of canola oil and sweat the asparagus and onion over medium heat. (almost no browing,mostly steaming.)
Once the asparagus is very green and the onion is translucent and soft (approx. 5-7 minutes), add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. (Don't let it get brown!)
Then, remove the tip pieces of asparagus. You'll use these whole in the final presentation of the dish.
Then, add
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2-2/3 c. half and half, milk, or cream
Cook this whole mixture for a few minutes, until it has reduced by 1/3 or so. 
Then puree the rest of the soup.
Put a few tips of asparagus into a bowl and ladel the soup on top. I find it crucial with soups to have some texture. Nobody likes to eat babyfood.

This post is where that recipe is from.  If you're a meat eater, there's a gorgeous Martha Stewart spring chicken ragout recipe in that post that is also very much worth trying.

Tell me, how are you celebrating the flavors of spring?

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