Asparagus-Rice Soup and Grilled Asparagus with Sesame Dressing

Asparagus, the pretty vegetable:
As summer is upon us, I didn’t want to forget to mention the pretty and often overlooked powerhouse vegetable of spring, asparagus. For me, it is the perfect finger food, often times picked at by my family before it even hits the table. Asparagus was revered in ancient times not only for its delicate flavor in cooking but for its medicinal properties as well. It is a great diuretic and high in antioxidants. There are recipes for asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, as it was cultivated by ancient
Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It is also high in folate and potassium. Several studies indicate that getting plenty of potassium may reduce loss of calcium in the body. But, as we know, it is so versatile, used in soups, stews, salads and just beautifully displayed on its own grilled or roasted. Get the last of it while it is still around at the Farmers’ Market!


Asparagus and Rice Soup w/ Shitake Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

6 tablespoons Olive Oil

2 cups diced yellow onions

6 medium shitake mushrooms, sliced thin

Salt

1/3 cup basmati rice

About 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup water

About 10 ounces asparagus, woody ends trimmed

Warm 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring regularly. Don’t let the onions color, they should sweat their moisture and become tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, stock, and water and bring to a simmer. Cover tightly and cook until the rice is nutty-tender, probably 15-20 minutes. The broth will be cloudy and should taste sweet from the onions. Turn off the heat.

While the rice is cooking, slice asparagus on an angle about ¼ thick. You should get about 2 ½ cups.

Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add the asparagus and sauté for a couple minutes, stirring and then add to the broth mixture and return to heat to boiling. Boil for about one minute. The soup is best when served promptly, while all the flavors are still bold.

(one variation is to add 4 ounces of pancetta to the asparagus and oil and render it for 5 minutes before adding to the soup)


Grilled Asparagus, with Sesame Dressing

2 Bunches Asparagus, trimmed of the woody ends

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons sugar, (or 2 tablespoons honey or agave)

2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1/2- 2/3 cup olive oil

Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (1 teaspoon)

Grill off asparagus on a stove top grill on high heat just a few minutes depending on size of asparagus, until just tender. (do not over cook, it should be slightly firm). You can roast in a hot oven, 450 degrees as an alternative, brushed with oil for 6-8 minutes. Chill asparagus.

Put garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar in a blender and blend on high until completely pulverized. Add the oils last in a tiny stream until smooth. This dressing does not get too thick and emulsified because of the liquids, but rather thin.

Place asparagus fanned out on a platter, drizzle with the sesame dressing and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.


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