Vegetables of Spring

Spring brings with it some special opportunities for fresh foods that we have all missed during the (extremely) long cold winter. Sure, there's the first opportunity to fire up the grill, but what I speak of here are two vegetables that make their appearance with the spring, fat juicy asparagus and sweet Vidalia onions. While anymore, asparagus can be obtained year round, during April and May, it is always fresher, and certainly much less expensive. Likewise with Vidalias, an onion that is so sweet and mild that there are some that use it as a base for pies. Something about the climate and soil in the area of Georgia where they are grown makes them different then any other onion.

Most people may think of onion as an addition to soups and sauces, and not as a vegetable that can stand on its own. While certainly a thick slice of raw onion is a welcome addition to a juicy burger, as a pizza topping or a taco addition, onions, and particularly Vidalias, lend themselves to use as a solitary vegetable. Look for solid, medium sized onions, and keeping the root end intact, remove the skin, trim the top half inch and halve (or quarter depending on size). Toss the halves in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place on a moderately hot grill. Do not allow to burn. After 10 minutes, turn and allow to cook another 5-7 minutes. The undisturbed root will hold the half together during grilling. The final result should be an onion that is browned on the outside, soft throughout (but not mushy). Serve as a vegetable with grilled marinated chicken breasts .

Asparagus is more accepted as a stand alone vegetable. (Although I have to confess to a certain fondness for a Hollandaise accompaniment!) When selecting asparagus, look for stalks with firm unopened tips, and no wrinkles on the stalk (showing that it is drying out). While in other vegetables, smaller, baby sized means a more tender product, my experience with asparagus holds the opposite to be true. The first stalks that the deeply buried roots send up tend to be the largest and thickest, and as nutrients the plant stored over the past growing season are used up producing new growth, the stalks get thinner, smaller and tend to be tougher. So, I look for the thickest stalks I can find and inevitably, they are sweeter, and more tender.

Because the skin can add some toughness, I generally peel the stalk about 2 inches from the tip after trimming the bottom inch off. A good sharp potato peeler does the job, although it is certainly acceptable to leave the stalk unpeeled. Ideally, asparagus should be steamed upright, tip side up. Tips and stalks cook at different rates and this helps to equalize the process. There are special asparagus steamers available, essentially a narrow, tall mini stock pot with a basket insert. They work wonderfully well, but are really a single purpose cooking vessel. If you don't have a special steamer, any standard vegetable steamer (or better yet a bamboo steamer) is certainly acceptable. Don't overcook! Steamed asparagus should be firm, and tender, but never mushy. 5 minutes or less over steam, until the stalks turn a bright green (like in blanching) is all that is needed. Serve piping hot. Of course the classic topping is hollandaise, but if you're watching fat, lemon and fresh pepper are very nice.

For a different method, try grilling. So that the stalks hold up better, I don't peel if you're going to grill. Also, using some vinaigrette not only adds flavor, but also helps sticking. Use a medium hot fire, and place the spears on the grill, after 2-3 minutes, roll a half a turn , cook two more minutes and you're done. If you plan on grilling asparagus, plan on preparing extra. The "leftovers" can be refrigerated, covered in vinaigrette, for 24 hours. Grilled then chilled asparagus makes a wonderful salad. Any vinaigrette will work well, either a favorite commercial preparation or homemade as in the recipe.


1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Tblsp. Dijon mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

Tsp. sugar

Tsp. bouquet garni (or tarragon if you prefer)

Salt and pepper to taste.
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Volume 2, Issue 8, Posted 3:03 PM, 04.08.06