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My Own Private Asparagus Festival

April 30, 1997|BEV BENNETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Bennett is the author of "Dinner for Two" (Barron's, 1994)

Given the usual poetic descriptions of asparagus, you might think it's just a pretty face in the produce department. Not so. Asparagus is no nutritional lightweight.

Currently, there's a lot of interest in folate, a B vitamin that is a possible preventive for neural-tube defects in babies. A serving of six asparagus spears supplies about two-thirds of the folate that adult women should have each day. That serving also has more than 10% of the vitamin C that adults need every day and contributes some dietary fiber and iron.

However, all that would be moot if asparagus weren't a versatile and delicious vegetable. If you want to know just how adaptable the spring stalk is, take a look at the winners of the annual National Asparagus Festival in Shelby, Mich. The top contenders make everything from oat bran muffins to gelatin molds to vichyssoise using asparagus as a base. You could cook your way through the entire season and never repeat a dish.

I prefer to start my personal asparagus festival with Asparagus-Leek Risotto. Asparagus stalks stand up better in this long-cooking recipe, so you might want to steam the tips and serve them separately.

ASPARAGUS-LEEK RISOTTO

4 teaspoons olive oil

1 leek, white part only, trimmed and diced

1 heaping cup asparagus pieces, cut into 1-inch lengths (1 small bunch)

1 cup Arborio rice

2 1/2 to 3 cups hot chicken broth

1/2 cup grated dry Jack or Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add leek and asparagus and saute over medium-high heat 5 minutes. Stir in rice and cook 1 minute.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until broth almost evaporates. Repeat 4 times. Taste rice. If creamy and tender, it's done. Otherwise add remaining 1/2 cup broth and continue cooking and stirring until done.

Stir in cheeses and cook over low heat until just melted. Add salt to taste and plenty of pepper. Serve immediately.

2 servings. Each serving:

740 calories; 1,757 mg sodium; 52 mg cholesterol; 30 grams fat; 88 grams carbohydrates; 29 grams protein; 1.77 grams fiber.

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