Springtime is prime time for asparagus in local markets, restaurants and at Gilcrease Orchard in the northern part of the valley.
“I’ve got tons,” said Mark Ruben, orchard director. “It’s actually peak time right now.”
It’s also the beginning of the season for the orchard at 7800 N. Tenaya Way, which this week moves to a schedule of 7 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Ruben said he’s been growing asparagus for about eight years. He planted it because he likes it, and because it would provide an early crop for the orchard.
“It’s one of our best crops,” he said. “It’s got a good taste, very sweet. It likes the high pH soils that we have.” The asparagus is available at the orchard, of course, and at the Fresh 52 Farmers &Artisans Market from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays at Sansone Park Place at 9500 S. Eastern Ave., and from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at Solista Park at Inspirada in Henderson.
John Miranda, chef de cuisine of Twist at the Waldorf Astoria, gets asparagus delivered twice a week from the French region of Provence. He uses both white and green asparagus in a dish he’s featuring on his tasting menu.
“The white is obviously very special,” Miranda said. “I have it once a year for about two months, April and May.” White asparagus is virtually the same as the green variety, but it’s covered with soil or other material while it grows, to block the sun and the development of chlorophyll.
“A lot of places grow white asparagus, but in Provence, they like to talk about their sandy soils and the sweetness that comes along with it,” he said. The asparagus Miranda orders is quite large, even though he doesn’t get the largest available.
“I usually don’t see them domestically big,” he said. “It’s something that Europeans are used to seeing that we don’t see here. It’s something Mr. Gagnaire (Pierre Gagnaire, executive chef) likes to express in his restaurants, large and white. It’s full of flavor.”
Green asparagus, he said, is “more earthy.” For the course on the tasting menu, he makes a puree of green asparagus and creme fraiche. Atop that goes haricots verts (skinny French green beans) with tiny shrimp and broiled eel. A large spear of white asparagus is laid over that, topped with shaved green asparagus and then ikura, which are salmon eggs. The finishing touch is an ice cream made with white asparagus and tarragon.
“It’s a little sweet,” he said of the ice cream, “and the tarragon gives it a little kick.”
At Eataly’s Manzo at Park MGM, executive chef Arnold Corpuz uses white and green asparagus, which he gets from a California family farm, in his Insalata Primavera. He blanches the white in citrus water with sugar to tame any bitterness, then cuts it in 2- to 3-inch pieces and folds it with haricots verts, sugar snap peas and a yuzu-basil vinaigrette, finishing with a little basil, some cherry tomatoes and black, Easter Egg and watermelon radishes.
For a side dish, he’ll marinate asparagus in a preserved-lemon vinaigrette, char it on the grill and finish it with ricotta salata and crispy Prosciutto di Parma.
“I love asparagus,” Miranda said. “It’s just so universal; you can do anything with it.”
The staff at The Factory Kitchen at The Venetian expected the season’s first shipment of white asparagus over the weekend. Angelo Auriana, chef and partner of Factory Place Hospitality Group, said it comes from the Netherlands.
“They are nice jumbo, extra-large, so they’re very meaty,” he said. “If you cook them right and give them a little acidity, it makes them sweeter than the green.”
He plans to serve them with a poached egg.
“It’s really a quintessential combination,” Auriana said. “And brown butter. We also make a beautiful mushroom sauce. We’re thinking of doing it for a main dish instead of a side. It’s a complete array of flavor that makes for a special dish.”
Christopher Johns, executive chef at the South Point, gets a little whimsical when remembering the asparagus of his younger days.
“When I worked in England, asparagus was always a seasonal vegetable,” he said, noting that differing growing seasons around the world have extended its availability. “We used to get it when it was fresh and still moist. When it’s freshly cut and we get it, it’s really good and tender.”
Johns said he features a chicken and asparagus stir-fry on the South Point’s buffet. He also likes to bake asparagus en papillote — in an envelope of parchment paper — with or without salmon, “with a little white wine, a very thin slice of fresh ginger, a little salt and white pepper. The moisture steams up and makes like a pillow effect. When you open it, it’s a ‘wow’ effect to many people who’ve never seen it.”
He’ll also grill it, and sometimes serve it with shrimp. Or toss it with lemon-infused pasta. Or just poach it and serve with Hollandaise or a light butter dipping sauce.
“I just like asparagus,” he said. “Especially when you can get it really fresh. No matter what they say, when it’s imported from South America, it’s going to deteriorate.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
Salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook, turning occasionally, until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and toss to coat. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
— Recipe from Epicurious
Roasted asparagus with grapefruit sabayon
Zest of 1 pink grapefruit, plus 2/3 cup juice (from about 1 1/2 grapefruit)
2 tablespoons sugar
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche
3 pounds (3 bunches) asparagus, preferably thin and with tightly closed tips
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Prepare sabayon: In a wide pot, bring 1/2 inch of water to a bare simmer; reduce heat to maintain temperature. In a large, wide stainless-steel bowl that sits in the pot without touching the water, whisk grapefruit zest and juice, sugar and egg yolks to blend. Set over hot water and whisk vigorously with an over-under motion until sabayon doubles in volume and holds a soft shape in bowl, 10 to 12 minutes. Nest bowl in a larger bowl of ice with a little water until cool, 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, beat cream and creme fraiche with a mixer until soft peaks form. Fold into sabayon in thirds, taking care not to deflate. Season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste. Chill.
Meanwhile, prepare asparagus: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Snap off woody ends of asparagus and trim on a diagonal. Divide asparagus between two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle evenly with oil and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper; toss to coat.
Roast asparagus until tender-crisp, switching pan positions halfway through, about 8 minutes. Serve hot, with sabayon.
— Recipe from Sunset magazine
Grilled asparagus and prosciutto Cobb salad
6 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
About 1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided use)
About 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (divided use)
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 pounds large asparagus, ends trimmed
2 bunches green onions, ends trimmed
1 1/3 pounds small lettuces, such as Little Gem
5 1/2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (keep cold)
2 avocados, sliced
6 ounces sharp but creamy blue cheese, such as Point Reyes Original, crumbled
Hard-cook eggs, then cool, peel and quarter. Meanwhile, whisk together 1/3 cup oil, the vinegar, mustard, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the garlic, chives and parsley; set dressing aside.
Put asparagus at one end of a large rimmed baking sheet and green onions at other end. Toss asparagus with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Toss onions with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Trim bases from lettuces and halve or quarter lettuces if large. Arrange in a bed on a large platter and set aside.
Heat a grill to medium-high (about 450 degrees). Lay cold prosciutto slices on two sheets of parchment paper, separated; then stack on a rimmed baking sheet.
Carefully flip prosciutto sheets meat down onto grill. Pull off paper with tongs. (For a charcoal grill, cook one batch at a time and move from center of fire if meat starts browning too fast.) Grill prosciutto covered, turning once, until mostly crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet; set aside.
Grill asparagus and green onions, covered, turning once, until charred and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet.
Arrange asparagus, green onions, prosciutto, avocados eggs, and cheese over lettuce. Drizzle with some of reserved dressing and serve the rest on the side.
Serves 6 as a main dish.
— Recipe from Sunset magazine