5 Ways to Liven Up Asparagus

Caramelize asparagus for a flavorful punch.By David Latt

The arrival of asparagus signals that summer's bounty is close at hand. But asparagus can seem like an old partner, familiar and not very exciting. Pushing the boundaries with the addition of caramelized garlic, onions and almonds transforms an old friend into an exciting, new companion.

Growing up, my mother served only canned asparagus so my earliest association of the plant was with the words "soggy" and "tasteless." After a visit to Paris during college, I discovered the deliciousness my mother missed.

Related: Ready to fire up the grill? How about grilled asparagus salad with tomatoes and feta?

In those days, my preferred preparation of asparagus was decidedly old school: cooked in boiled water with salt in an asparagus steamer I had purchased from a kitchen supply store during a time I bought all manner of infrequently used specialty items, such as a truffle shaver and corn on the cob holders.

Steamed for 10 minutes and plated, the asparagus were a beautiful dark green. Unfortunately they were inedible. The stalks were woody and otherwise flavorless.

Related: Green or white, you can't go wrong with this classic spring veggie.

These days I shop for fat, green asparagus (as opposed to pencil-thin or white varieties) To make them easier to eat and to expose their innards to caramelization, I slice them in half. To complement their crisp spring flavor, I sauté them in seasoned olive oil and add sautéed onions, garlic and almond slivers.

Related: Looking for something more filling? How about asparagus pizza?

The garlic and almonds are cut into the same sliver shape, so the slight differences the eye misses between savory and sweet bits, your palate notices immediately.

Start with the basic caramelized preparation and then consider four variations that add a medley of other flavors and textures. You'll never be bored with asparagus again!

Asparagus with Caramelized Shallots, Garlic and Almond Slivers

When buying asparagus, look for well-formed stalks and heads. Avoid ones with dents or stalks that are shriveling, which is a sign of age. Asparagus will keep for a week or longer in the refrigerator if the white ends are trimmed and the stalks are placed in 2 inches of water.

Serves 4-5

Ingredients

1 pound asparagus, washed, white ends and 2 inches of the bottom green cut off and discarded

4 shallots, washed, peeled and root ends removed, thin sliced

¼ cup blanched, raw almond slivers

4 garlic cloves, paper skins and root ends removed, thin sliced to resemble the almond slivers

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Pencil thin asparagus can be used whole as can thick asparagus. I prefer to cut thick asparagus in half, the long way, so the inside is as caramelized as the outside, but that is a matter of taste.

2. Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and season with sea salt and pepper, about ¼ teaspoon of each.

3. Place a paper towel on a large plate or baking sheet.

4. Sauté the asparagus in batches, using tongs to turn the stalks for even cooking. Lightly brown and remove, placing the cooked asparagus on the paper towel to drain.

5. When you have finished sautéing the asparagus, in the same pan, sauté the shallots, garlic and almonds slivers until lightly browned.

6. Return the cooked asparagus to the frying pan and toss with the caramelized shallots, garlic and almonds.

7. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional olive oil, sea salt or black pepper. Serve warm.

Variations

1: Cook the shallots, garlic and almonds separately and place on top of the cooked asparagus when serving.

2: For heat, dust the shallots, garlic and almonds with a pinch (or two) of cayenne or ¼ teaspoon pepper flakes.

3: Along with the shallots, garlic and almonds, sauté until lightly browned 2 shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, stems trimmed, sliced to resemble the almond slivers.

4: To serve as an entrée or a side dish, cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces and add 2 cups cooked pasta, seasoned with 1 tablespoon sweet butter. Toss well and dust with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, "10 Delicious Holiday Recipes" is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman's New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg's travel site and the New York Daily News online.

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