One of the sure signs of spring is the appearance of locally grown asparagus in the market. Like many other elegant things in life, it's beautiful and expensive and should be treated with respect.
Long spears of asparagus have always warranted special heating techniques to assure even cooking from the somewhat less-tender stem end to the ultra-tender tip. When boiling asparagus on a stove top, many people tie several stalks of asparagus into a big bunch and stand it upright in a shallow water bath. This technique applies boiling water to the stem, while only gentle wafts of steam reach the tip ends.
In a microwave, there's a similar procedure. Using a flat shallow dish, arrange the long asparagus tips so that the tougher stem ends are toward the outside edges of the dish and the tender tip ends are at the center. Add a small amount of water and cover the dish tightly with vented plastic wrap. Microwaves, which penetrate about an inch into foods, will cook the more exposed ends the most, while the trapped steam will lightly come on the tip ends.
Microwave whole asparagus spears at MEDIUM HIGH (70% power) instead of the usual HIGH power used for most vegetables. Slower cooking will allow for a more even spread of heat through the long slim vegetable pieces. Allow about 13 to 16 minutes per pound for asparagus spears, and rotate the dish if necessary every 5 minutes.
Serve Fresh and Hot
For a beautiful vegetable course, serve asparagus fresh and hot, with a simple but interesting seasoning such as the browned butter sauce that follows. Accented with a good marinade, cold asparagus makes a delicious hors d'oeuvre or salad. Also good are cold asparagus tips in cocktail sandwiches. To make, snugly roll each spear into a thin slice of crustless bread that has been spread with mayonnaise.
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup white wine tarragon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
6 black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends removed, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1/4 small cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 small green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup halved, pitted medium black olives
Stir together olive oil, water, vinegar, mustard, peppercorns and thyme in 1 1/2-quart microwave casserole. Add asparagus, cauliflower and carrot. Cover casserole and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 3 to 5 minutes, just until slightly softened. Add pepper slices and olives and toss to mix. Recover and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Makes about 3 cups.
Note: Acid in marinade will cause asparagus and green pepper to turn from bright green to olive color over longer storage. However, flavor will intensify.
Many people do not realize that you can brown butter in the microwave. It is possible but it must be watched carefully, just as you do on a stove top, to prevent over-browning. If you have any of the following recipe left over, use it to fill an omelet.
BROWNED BUTTER ASPARAGUS
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, cut in 1-inch diagonals
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Place asparagus and water in 2-quart microwave casserole. Cover and microwave at HIGH (100% power) 7 to 10 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until just tender-crisp. Let stand while making browned butter.
Place butter in 1-quart glass measuring cup or casserole. Cover with wax paper. Microwave at HIGH 4 to 7 minutes, until butter is golden brown. Remove from microwave and stir in soy sauce, lemon juice and pepper. If necessary, drain cooked asparagus, then toss with browned butter. Makes 3 to 4 servings.