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Ode To Asparagus

I spotted Asparagus at the Union Square Greenmarket for the first time today. There were rumors that Asparagus had made an appearance on Wednesday, but the restaurants came early and bought all of them. Today, I would not be thwarted. I got to Lani's Farm at 7:30 this morning (they've got some of the best produce in the market) and spotted the plump, purplish green stalks standing there in all their Asparagus glory. The weather outside may say otherwise. But Spring is definitely here.

As soon as I got home, I sampled one of the raw Asparagus. It is delicious: bright, sweet and crunchy (and a little gritty--make sure you WASH your farmer's market asparagus well by soaking it a couple of times in cold water--this ain't no squeaky clean supermarket produce). There is absolutely no comparison between local, seasonal asparagus and the bland, imposter "Asparagus" you can find year-round. Local asparagus is bursting with asparagus-ness. It is the very definition of what it means to BE an asparagus.

Asparagus is only in season for about a month or so. So get to the Greenmarket (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) and get there early! You've got to check these out. Luckily, there are many, many ways to cook and enjoy this vegetable. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Raw Asparagus Salad: Shave asparagus with a vegetable peeler (you'll need about 10 per person). Toss with very finely chopped shallot, lemon juice, crunchy sea salt and good, fruity olive oil. Top with shaved pecorino romano cheese.

Asparagus Crostini: Cut asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in 350 degree oven until tender. Cut thick slices from a baguette (about 1/4-1/2 inch). Fry on both sides in butter and olive oil until golden brown. Lay pieces of asparagus on crostini and top with a generous dollop of Burrata cheese. Drizzle with truffle oil if you're feeling crazy.

Asparagus and Poached Egg: Steam asparagus until just tender. Lightly fry an egg (I love Knoll Crest Farm's eggs at the market on Wednesday and Saturday) in olive oil until just set. Toss some arugula or other hearty green (watercress or frisee would work well) in good olive oil with some finely chopped shallots. Place asparagus on greens and lay fried egg on top. Sprinkle with some fresh herbs and sea salt.

Asparagus Soup Check out Emeril's recipe. It's fabulous.

Asparagus Risotto: Start making a traditional risotto. When you're 3/4 of the way through, stir in disks of roasted asparagus, sauteed shitake mushrooms and sauteed ramps. Finish off with lots of good parmesan cheese and butter.

Frozen Asparagus: You can preserve asparagus for a while (it'll take you through a good part of the summer). Blanch the asparagus, shock in ice water, then seal and place in freezer.

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