Asparagus, Cayenne, and Lime

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I am a terrible gardener. I kill every plant that comes into my life, quickly and decisively. Even so, each spring I start dreaming of a kitchen garden, imagining the wonderful heirloom tomatoes, fresh English peas, and summer squash I’ll have at the end of the season. I look forward to a glut of produce, and start planning preserves and chutneys and jams. I fast forward to an imaginary winter scene of me plucking a mason jar off the pantry shelf each night, making year-round use of my resources.

Some years I even buy seedlings. I make space in the yard for my future plant beds. I read books on pickling and fermenting. While these pretty ideas play through my mind, I forget to water my plants.  I get distracted and let them all dry up and die.

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My Love reminds me that it isn’t that hard: water + plant + time = vegetables. I understand that intellectually, but in practice I just can’t make it happen. My synapses don’t seem to fire between the ‘plant’ and ‘water’ sections of my brain.

This year is no different. I have a field to plant veggies in, and boxes of jars just waiting to can the summer’s spoils. But…is it really right to buy seedlings, knowing I’ll send them to their deaths? I can ‘promise’ this year will be different, but can I really change my neglectful ways?

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So far, I haven’t had to answer these questions. Though my grandmother’s grown-over garden patch is showing signs of spring, the weather has been too unpredictable to plant anything outdoors. Seedlings should go in soon though, in the next few weeks. I am waiting, hoping my impulse to acquire doomed plant life will subside.

In the meantime, something wonderful is happening in Grandma’s forgotten patch. Asparagus—which takes several years to really get going—is growing so fast I can practically watch it in real time. I’m cutting a half pound a day of the stuff—the freshest, greenest, crunchiest, grassiest asparagus I’ve ever had. We’ve been munching it straight out of the ground.

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We’ve eaten the spears sauteed with salt and pepper. They went into a frittata, and a raw salad. I pickled a few jars. I mixed them into pasta. On the verge of pickling more, the Hubs mentioned we may not end up liking pickled asparagus, so perhaps we should think of another way to preserve them.

I blanched a batch for a minute in boiling water, then dried them, spread them on a baking tray, and put them in the freezer. Once they were frozen solid, I zipped them up into a freezer bag, which my friend Internet assures me should keep them very nicely for six months.

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Now I’m really digging deep. It’s time to try something I’ve never had before—no more chopping them up into my usual weeknight dinners. I’ve been reading The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg, and came across a new (to me) idea: asparagus, cayenne, and lime.

This reminded me of a road trip I took many years ago through Mexico. I was living in Tucson at the time and the border was only 45 minutes away. A group of friends and I decided on a whim that we wanted to go to the beach, so we packed a few things and set off for the bus station.

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We rode all night. In the morning, we got off the bus at a roadside stand selling fresh coconuts sprinkled with lime and hot sauce. Hot sauce! On coconuts!

Taking our snack, we made our way to the local beach near Guaymas, where we set up camp under a tree  (by ‘set up camp’ I mean we parked ourselves there. We didn’t actually have any camping equipment.) We spent a few days swimming, walking, and sunning ourselves. At night, we returned to our tree and slept on the sand.

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As the days went on, we snacked on fresh mangoes with lime and hot sauce, ceviche with lime and hot sauce, and sweetcorn with lime and hot sauce. I started to detect a pattern. Lime + chili = Oh yes! Lime and chili act the same way salt and pepper do north of the border—ubiquitous seasonings enhancing the flavor of everything on the end of your fork.

So why not asparagus, cayenne, and lime? To test the combination, I’ve tried it two ways. The first is a soup, in which the pepper and lime are meant to be seasoning rather than major flavors in the dish. The second is inspired by chili, lime, and white queso-sprinkled grilled corn found at some Mexican and Cuban restaurants. Neither recipe is exact: you should use the cayenne and lime to your taste.

 

Grilled Asparagus with Cayenne, Lime, and Goat Cheese

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • a squeeze of lime juice
  • crumbled goat cheese

 

First, blanch the asparagus in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunge into ice water to stop further cooking.

Toss the asparagus in oil, salt, and pepper. You can either grill them in a very hot frying pan, or put them directly on a barbecue. Turn each spear until they have started to blister and color on each side.

Remove to a plate, and sprinkle with cayenne, lime juice, and crumbled cheese.

 

Asparagus Soup

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 glass white wine
  • salt & pepper
  • water
  • a scant pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a squeeze of lime juice

 

Heat the oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the asparagus, salt, and pepper, and cover the pan with a lid. Allow to sweat for 1-2 minutes, then remove the lid.

Add the wine a splash at a time, letting the liquid bubble almost completely away before adding more. Once all the wine has been added, pour in just enough water to almost cover the vegetables.

Transfer everything to a food processor or blender, and whiz until liquid. If it is too thick, just add a little more water until you have a nice soupy consistency.

Pour back into the pan and heat through. Add the cayenne and a squeeze of lime to season.

3 comments:

Sue said...

Yum to both dishes! Wish I could pop in for a taste. Hope they are still producing in early June... maybe??? (Pardon me for wishing you'll be in Maine long enough to plant, nurture, and harvest a garden!)

Kate said...

These recipes make my mouth water! The consistency of the soup looks perfect. I am a big fan of grilled asparagus...it's great on a sandwich made with sourdough, turkey (real, not processed) and a hint of lemon. Hooray for the Spring veggies!

Stephfret said...

Not sure if there will be much left in June. They seem to be slowing down now. But I've frozen some so we can have those when you're here.

Grilled asparagus and turkey on sourdough sounds great. I'm hungry for lunch now, even though I've already eaten :)

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