What would life be without asparagus?  If that question had been asked of me as a child, I would have answered, “Wonderful!”  I hated the stuff.  My parents loved it, though, and so springtime meals were often a challenge for me. 

There was a large patch of asparagus that grew in the backyard of my childhood home.  Dad also knew where lots of it grew wild in a ditch close to our house.  While other families considered asparagus to be a treat, my mom had an abundant spring supply.  When I saw my father coming into the house with a bunch of asparagus in hand, I knew what was in store for supper that evening. 

I grew up in a household where we were expected to eat what was on the table.  “I don’t like that!” was a comment that ensured an extra portion.  My parents had no sympathy for picky children.  If one of us rebelled and absolutely refused to eat something at dinner, Mom stuck in in the refrigerator for their breakfast the next morning.  It had to be consumed before they could have anything else.  Once or twice of facing a morning meal of cold rejects from the night before left us much more willing to choke down whatever it was we didn’t like.

Thankfully, sometimes Mom let us disguise the foods that disgusted our taste buds.  I went through a phase when I hated scrambled eggs.  My cure for eating those was a lot of catsup.  The “remedy” I learned for ingesting asparagus without gagging was salad dressing – the kind that imitates mayonnaise.  I could get a spoonful of it, hide a piece of asparagus in the middle, and swallow it without chewing.  I was always very thankful when the asparagus season was over.  However, Mom purchased the canned variety from time to time.  Sometimes she made creamed asparagus on toast, which I detested.  There was no hiding it in salad dressing.

At some point in my life, I developed quite a taste for asparagus.  I discovered this when a friend and I were visiting her mother-in-law.  This lady wanted to fix lunch for us, and what did she prepare but creamed asparagus over toast.  I dreaded mealtime, as my parents taught me to eat what was being offered unless I was allergic to it.   But much to my surprise, the creamed asparagus turned out to be quite tasty.  After that, I began trying it prepared in other ways.  I found out that my adult taste buds were quite different from my childhood ones; asparagus was now something I could enjoy.

With all the discussion about asparagus, I am sure my readers know where this column is going to end up – asparagus recipes!  It shouldn’t be too surprising, however, as May is National Asparagus Month.  And grownup Sara is okay with that.

Asparagus Amandine

2 pounds fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons diced red bell pepper

1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Snap off tough ends of asparagus.  Cook asparagus in boiling salted water to cover in a large skillet 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain.

Plunge asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add almonds and sauté 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove almonds from skillet.  Into same skillet, add asparagus and red bell pepper; cook 3 to 5 minutes. Toss with lemon juice, salt and pepper; add almonds and serve immediately.

Asparagus With Pimientos

1 pound fresh asparagus *

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 (2-ounce) jar diced pimientos, drained

Snap off tough ends of asparagus; remove scales with a knife or vegetable peeler, if desired.

Cook asparagus in boiling salted water to cover in a large saucepan 4 to 5 minutes or until tender.  Drain.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat; add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes or until browned.

Add asparagus; toss gently.  Sprinkle each serving with cheese and pimientos.

Yield: 4 servings.

* Substitute 2 (9-ounce) packages frozen asparagus spears (cooked according to package directions) for fresh asparagus, if desired. 

Steamed Asparagus with Tomato-Basil Dip

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

4 pounds fresh asparagus

Garnish: fresh basil

Whisk together first 5 ingredients until blended.  Cover and chill up to 2 days, if desired.

Snap off tough ends of asparagus.

Cook in boiling water to cover 3 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain.

Plunge asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain.  Cover and chill until ready to serve with dip.  Garnish dip, if desired.

Spring Brunch Bake

1/2 cup butter
1/2 pound. fresh asparagus, steamed lightly & cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced thin
8 cups French or Italian bread (cubed)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup cooked cubed ham (optional)
8 eggs
2-1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter over medium heat in a medium size skillet. Add vegetables & cook, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk and seasoning. In a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish layer bread cubes, ham, vegetables & 1 cup shredded cheese. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. Cover & refrigerate 12-24 hours. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes, or until golden & puffed. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese evenly over top & baked until cheese melts. Serves 12.

Chicken and Asparagus with Penne Pasta

1 pound fresh asparagus

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into strips

Salt and pepper

1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup lite soy sauce

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained – reserve juice

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

8 ounces penne pasta, cooked (may substitute other pasta, if desired)

Snap off tough ends of asparagus; remove scales, if desired.  Cut spears into 3-inch pieces; set aside.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.

Cook chicken in hot oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat 4 to 7 minutes, or until browned.  Remove from skillet, reserving drippings in pan.

Sauté asparagus (and mushrooms, if desired) in skillet 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Measure juice from tomatoes.  If necessary, add water to equal 1/4 cup.  (If there is more than 1/4 cup, discard the rest.)  Stir together soy sauce, tomato juice, cornstarch, lime juice, and vinegar.  Add tomatoes, chicken, and soy sauce mixture to skillet.  Cook for 1 minute over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened.  Add pasta.  Cook until hot through, stirring constantly.