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Let asparagus speak for itself – vegetable at its finest during this time of year

By Beth Dooley, Star Tribune
Published: May 15, 2024, 6:04am

My mother always said “less is more” and “wear the dress; don’t let it wear you.” Those two pieces of advice, among others, are true in life — and especially true of asparagus. Newly arrived in our farmers markets and co-ops, the vibrant green spears don’t need gussying up. Asparagus, the aristocrat of vegetables, is compelling on its own.

The surest sign of spring, asparagus is at its finest early in the season. We’ve all suffered through a long, dreary winter, so let’s indulge right away. Like our first flowers, asparagus doesn’t stay fresh very long. Whether you prefer the pencil thin, medium or jumbo spears is up to you. Size makes no difference in favor or quality; what matters most is how fresh the spears are. But size does determine how to cook them: skinny asparagus is best lightly blanched, sautéed or stir-fried; for those plump spears, cut or snap the tough ends first, then blanch, braise, roast or grill. Just don’t overdo.

When it comes to asparagus, take Mom’s advice and keep it simple. Begin with this elemental technique: simmer the spears in well-salted water until brilliant green. Watch the pot, this takes just a few seconds. It’s better to drain them when underdone because the residual heat will keep them cooking a few seconds longer. You want them to stay bright and firm.

Then, let the asparagus spears speak for themselves. Serve them warm just as they are, room temperature, or chilled and garnished simply and elegantly: a creamy, herby dressing; a sprightly vinaigrette; or with lemon butter. Leftovers (should you have them) may be whirred into an herbaceous soup or folded into soft scrambled eggs. I like to dunk them one by one into a dish of lemony mayonnaise.

Blanched Asparagus With Lemon-Herb Tahini Sauce

Serves 4 to 6.

Lightly blanched until verdant and crisp tender, these asparagus don’t need much. Here they’re lightly draped with a tangy herby tahini sauce that also goes wonderfully with grilled fish and lamb. Store any extra sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week. From Beth Dooley.

2 lb. fresh asparagus

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup tahini, stirred well

1/4 cup lemon juice, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup water, as needed

Assorted radishes, sliced, for optional garnish

Cut or snap off any tough bottoms from the asparagus spears. Set a large skillet of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil. Drop in the asparagus spears and cook until vibrant green, about 1 to 3 minutes (watch the pot). Remove from heat, strain and rinse asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking.

Put the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, parsley and cilantro into a food processor or blender and pulse in the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is smooth and emulsified to the desired consistency.

Arrange the cooked asparagus on a large serving platter or individual plates and drape with the sauce. Garnish with radishes, if desired. Pass any additional sauce and radishes alongside.

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