Friday, March 30, 2012

Asparagus Almondine

Plate of asparagus with dressing and almonds on side
Steamed Asparagus Ready for Dressing

Recipe by Robin

Asparagus is an iconic spring vegetable, and the first asparagus of the year is cause to celebrate. It’s asparagus season! According to University of California Davis, California leads the nation is asparagus production, followed by Michigan and Washington. Asparagus is harvested 7 months of the year, but largest harvests occur in March through May. With production going up and prices going down, this is the perfect time of year to look around the markets for fresh young asparagus.

olive oil, cut lemon, chopped almonds, asparagus
Simple Springtime Ingredients
Almonds, though not in season, are available from last year’s harvest. California is also a major player in the almond field, supplying 80% of almonds worldwide and 100% in the US. If you drive down I-5 through the Central Valley at this time of year, you’ll see grove after grove of almonds, a month past blossoming already, and fully leafed out. It’s a beautiful sight, until you encounter farmers spraying, as we did recently. I don’t know what they were spraying, but it made my tongue tingle and smelled like the toxic chemical aisle of a garden supply store…on steroids.

According to World’s Healthiest Foods, a nonprofit organization, the FDA found no pesticide residues in the almonds that they tested. However, they only tested two samples. Bad FDA! Are organic almonds really better? Even if conventionally grown almonds contain minimal pesticide resides, organic almonds are a more responsible choice when you consider the cost of introducing thousands of pounds of pesticides into our soils and water annually.

Since 2008, the California Almond Board has required that almonds be pasteurized, either by heating or by chemicals. Heat is of course the lesser of the evils, and some growers have developed less invasive heating processes that affect only the outside part of the nut. This raises the question of whether “raw” almonds are truly raw. You could try sprouting your “raw” almonds at home to find out.

This simple recipe combines asparagus with Meyer lemons, which are also in season. You may use equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil, or substitute a little water for some of the oil like I did. I like using the most natural almonds possible, so chop my own “raw” almonds, but you could choose blanched sliced or slivered almonds for a more traditional and polished look if you prefer. For your measuring convenience, remember that:
 ½ tbsp. = 1 ½ tsp.

asparagus topped with dressing and almonds
Asparagus Almondine
Asparagus Almondine
serves about 3

1 lb. young asparagus spears
1 ½ tbsp. fresh Meyer lemon juice
½ tbsp. water
1  tbsp. good olive oil
¾ tsp. lemon zest
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 - 2 tbsp. chopped or sliced almonds

Heat a heavy skillet on medium high. Add almonds and stir constantly until fragrant and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from skillet so they won’t overcook.

Steam asparagus until bottom end of stems are tender enough to cut easily. This will take between 6 – 7 minutes for most young asparagus, and 8 minutes or so for more mature spears.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by stirring together lemon juice, salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Beat in oil.

When asparagus is cooked, place on serving platter. Beat the dressing lightly to combine, then immediately drizzle over asparagus. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp. toasted almonds.

Toss the asparagus to mix with dressing, and serve with additional salt, pepper, and extra almonds (optional).

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