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Process Essay Example Cooking Asparagus

Spring is in full swing, and that means foodies everywhere will be grabbing those fresh bunches of asparagus to celebrate the season. But there’s a good chance you’ve heard or experienced the challenges of pairing wine with asparagus. So today I bring you this post on how to pair wine with asparagus, and offer 5 simple tips that have helped me to enjoy my favorite spring vegetable along with wine.

So what’s the big deal with pairing wine with asparagus? The chemical composition of asparagus can create a tendency to clash with the wine. That chlorophyll that gives asparagus its dark green color that says “Spring!” is not an easy partner with wine. But fear not! There are ways to pair wine with asparagus that can help you celebrate the season while enjoying a good glass of vino.

1) Pick the right white. Have a nice bunch of fresh asparagus? White wine is the typical choice, but this is not the time to break out that California Chardonnay. The best options to pair with white tend to have a soft, floral character (Muscat is a good example) or a crisp, citrusy element. Many Italian whites fit the bill nicely, especially if you are going with strategy #2 and adding cheese. Gruner Veltliner is another classic choice for asparagus and other tricky green vegetables.  You may have noticed the picture at the top of the post has red wine with asparagus; that is possible, we’ll get to the details shortly.

2) Add cheese to bridge to the wine. Asparagus on its own is tough to partner with wine. A few wines, along the lines mentioned above, can work pretty well with simple steamed asparagus. But adding a wine-friendly food to an asparagus dish opens up the possibilities. And cheese is a great place to start!

I’ve had good luck making pasta dishes that have asparagus along with cheese. Most recently, I made Linguine with Cod and Asparagus. This dish paired nicely with a crisp Sicilian white wine made from Grillo grapes.  My favorite example of of cheese bridging to the wine is this Shaved Raw Asparagus Salad with Parmesan Dressing from Food & Wine. This is a go to recipe for spring dinner parties. I’ve successfully paired it with Alsatian Muscat as well as a number of crisp Italian whites such as Grilled and Verdicchio.

3) Roast or grill the asparagus and serve a red. Another trick to making asparagus work with wine is to roast the asparagus or grill it. Cooking the asparagus likes this changes the character of the vegetable as it gets caramelized in the process. The caramelized asparagus can actually work quite nicely with a red wine, provided that it’s not overly tannic.  For instance, I served this grilled asparagus and onions along with a nice fruity Zinfandel, which worked well for the asparagus as well as our steak kebabs.

4) Add other-wine friendly food to the dish. Cheese is a natural partner for asparagus and wine.  But consider what other wine-friendly foods you can add to your asparagus. I add mushrooms to a lot of things, as the earthiness of mushrooms tends to go well with the style of red wines I like–a good Pinot, or a rustic red blend from Southern France. This simple Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms dish worked out very nicely with a blend of Cabernet Franc and Malbec from Sonoma County. Bacon or ham would be another example of things that you could add to asparagus to make it more wine-friendly.

5) Plan your menu with these tips in mind. I typically focus the wine pairing on the entree as opposed to the side dish, but the calculation changes a bit when asparagus is on the plate. This veggie needs to accounted for in your wine pairing considerations! If you are serving a meat that calls for a red wine, definitely plan to roast or grill the asparagus to make it work with a red. As noted above, choose a more fruit forward wine as opposed to a more tannic one. In other words, stay a way from things like an oaky Cabernet Sauvignon with asparagus.  I’ve been at restaurants where they serve steamed asparagus alongside a steak. I wouldn’t do that at home, but forced to eat that combo with red wine, I’d be sure to have a bit of steak before taking another sip of the wine.

If you have a fresh bunch of asparagus you want to simply steam or sauté, start from the premise that you will want to serve a white wine. Plan an entree that goes nicely with a white. A lighter fish or chicken dish with a side of asparagus is one good option. You can also incorporate the asparagus into the main course. I often do that by featuring the asparagus in a pasta dish, and it’s also great in this Early Spring Risotto. Stir-fry can also work. Keep in mind that a fresh bunch of asparagus really deserves to shine on your plate, and don’t overwhelm it with too many other ingredients.

So, there you have it, 5 tips for pairing wine with asparagus. Do you have a great asparagus and wine pairing idea or recipe? Please share!

Filed Under: spring recipes, tips/essays/etc., wine pairingTagged With: asparagus, asparagus wine pairing, spring recipes, wine pairing

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Fresh asparagus is quick and easy to cook, and makes any meal feel just a little more special. No wonder we love it when asparagus season hits and the price drops so we can eat all the asparagus we can hold. Here are six simple ways to cook asparagus, complete with top tips and recipes to try. Find fresh spring asparagus at Whole Foods Market.

Grilled Asparagus | Photo by Meredith

Try this recipe: Grilled Lemon Parmesan Asparagus

6 Ways to Cook Asparagus

1. Steamed Asparagus

Asparagus is held in a basket to cook gently over steaming water. You can use an upright steam basket (shown below) or a collapsible steam basket. Steaming is good for cutting calories, as it requires little or no fat.

Asparagus Steamer | Photo by Meredith

This video for Simply Steamed Asparagus shows you how to steam whole asparagus using a collapsible steam basket:

Recipes to Try

John's Raspberry Asparagus
Farfalle with Asparagus and Smoked Salmon
Lemon Asparagus Risotto

More: Learn what to look for in a food steamer, and shop for the right steamer for you.

2. Boiled or Blanched Asparagus

Asparagus is cooked very quickly in boiling water until it's fully or partially cooked. If you're not serving the asparagus immediately, plunge it into a pan of ice water to halt the cooking. This will also preserve the bright green color. Some recipes call for partially cooking — or blanching – the asparagus, icing it, then finishing the cooking later.

Boiling Asparagus

Place trimmed asparagus in a skillet large enough to hold the asparagus and enough salted water to cover by about 1/2 inch. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook until just tender, testing frequently.

Boiling Asparagus | Photo by Meredith

Icing Asparagus to Stop the Cooking

Drain the cooked asparagus and place it in a large bowl or pan of ice water.

Blanched Asparagus in Ice Water Bath | Photo by Meredith

Recipes to Try

Chef John's Asparagus Tart
Asparagus with Tomatoes
Cold Asparagus with Curry Dip

3. Microwaved Asparagus

Place asparagus in a microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for about 3 minutes. Stir, and microwave for another 2 to 3 minutes until the spears are firm but tender. Drain and cool.

Recipes to Try

Microwave Asparagus Salad
Asparagus Avocado Medley Evonne Style
Asparagus Soup

4. Oven-Roasted or Baked Asparagus

For this method, place the asparagus in a single layer on a shallow pan and cooked in the oven at high heat. The blast of heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the asparagus and deepens the flavor. Note that roasting could brown the spears, and they won't appear to be as plump as when they're steamed or blanched. Yet, the enhanced flavor is worth it. This video for Oven-Roasted Asparagus shows you how it's done.

Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms | Photo by CookinBug

Recipes to Try

Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms
Roasted Asparagus Prosciutto and Egg
Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan

5. Pan-Fried or Sautéed Asparagus

Asparagus is cooked in oil or butter in a skillet, as in this video for Sautéed Garlic Asparagus.

Pan-Fried Asparagus | Photo by CookinBug

Recipes to Try

Pan-Fried Asparagus
Asparagus with Sliced Almonds and Parmesan Cheese
Stir-Fried Sesame Asparagus

6. Grilled Asparagus

Cooking asparagus on the grill is quick and easy, and adds a delicious smoky flavor to the finished dish. You can lay asparagus spears directly across the grill grates, corral the spears in a grill basket, or grill them in a pan.

Grilling Basket | Photo by Meredith

The video for Grilled Asian Asparagus is all cued up for you:

Recipes to Try

Grilled Parmesan Asparagus
Grilled Soy-Sesame Asparagus
Bacon-Wrapped Sriracha Asparagus

How to Trim and Prep Asparagus

Trimming asparagus is a "snap." To remove and discard the tough woody ends of the stalks before cooking, you can just cut them off with a knife. But what’s more fun is to use your hands to snap the stalks in two. They naturally snap at about the point where the woody part begins. Once you've snapped your asparagus, you can line them up and give the ends one last neat trim, if you'd like.

Trimmed Asparagus | Photo by Meredith

To Peel or Not to Peel

Asparagus spears range in size from thicker than your thumb to thinner than a pencil. If your asparagus is on the thicker side, you might want to peel the woody stalks with a vegetable peeler. Some cooks also like to trim off the tiny leaves on the stems. But unless they're very spiky, you can leave them on.

Peeling Asparagus | Photo by Meredith

Top Tips for Cooking Asparagus

Tender asparagus is so easy to cook, and even easier to get wrong. It can go from bright green and tender-crisp to limp and mushy in a flash. Here's how to avoid overcooking your asparagus.

  • Allow plenty of extra spears for testing as you cook.
  • No matter which cooking method you choose, the residual heat will continue cooking the asparagus. Remove it from the stove/grill/oven when it's almost done to your taste.
  • If you're blanching and reheating asparagus, remove it from the boiling water when it's still a bit more crisp than you like. The reheating will finish cooking the spears.