Dining In

Spears of Spring

By Nancy Finch, Food Columnist   

Once upon a time — not too long ago — asparagus was one of those harbingers of spring, like daffodils.         

    Despite the fact that we had asparagus for a Christmas holiday meal (the wonders of modern shipping!), I still associate asparagus with spring. One thing is certain, they are more affordable then.

Maybe some of our readers even grow their own and look forward to the early arrival of their asparagus. We’re not so fortunate, but we do look forward to enjoying asparagus at every opportunity when they are plentiful and affordable each spring.

To keep your asparagus fresh, wrap the bottom ends of the spears in a moist paper towel and place unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator where they can be kept nicely for at least three days. Size doesn’t matter — thick or thin — it’s a matter of personal preference.

We have tested a menu that is surprisingly simple, yet good and elegant as well. For sure, it is low in fat and calories.

Steaming the potatoes, salmon and asparagus in a three-tier steamer, as recommended, was not possible. I don’t own a three-tier steamer and I’ve declared a moratorium on more kitchen equipment — opening my cabinets produces a cascade already — but I made do and it worked.

I steamed the asparagus in the top of a very large egg poacher, the potatoes in a large saucepan with a metal vegetable steamer inserted, and the salmon I steamed in a large skillet, using a cake rack over the water for the fish.

The sauce for all three was good and couldn’t have been simpler — a bottle of honey Dijon salad dressing containing chopped walnuts. When my guests asked about the “wonderful” sauce, I hated to confess it was straight out of a salad dressing bottle.

Asparagus salad has always been a favorite of mine, usually with crumbled bacon, bleu cheese and vinaigrette. But, we discovered, with oranges and your own vinaigrette, again topped with chopped walnuts, we had an excellent combination.

Asparagus cooks very quickly, just four or five minutes. So watch your time carefully. They should still be crispy.

Steamed Salmon Dinner with Walnut Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

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4 salmon fillets (3 oz. each)

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1 lb. fresh asparagus

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4 medium red potatoes, washed and cut into quarters

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1 cup honey Dijon vinaigrette, regular or low fat

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1⁄2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions: Steam salmon, potatoes and asparagus over boiling water in whatever equipment you have available. Remove asparagus from heat after four or five minutes. Steam potatoes for at least 15 minutes and salmon until cooked to flaking (with a fork) doneness. While ingredients are steaming, pour vinaigrette in saucepan and warm over medium heat. Do not boil. Add walnuts. To serve, arrange salmon, potatoes and asparagus on serving plate and drizzle warm dressing over all. Serves 4.

Asparagus and Citrus Salad

Ingredients:

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2 T shallots, finely chopped

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1 T Balsamic vinegar (white, preferably)

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2 T sherry vinegar or sherry

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2-3 T olive oil

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1⁄4 t salt

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Ground pepper, to taste

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2 oranges

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Zest from 1 orange

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1 lb. asparagus

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2 T walnuts, coarsely chopped

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Watercress or lettuce

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2 T chopped walnuts, toasted*

Directions: Combine shallots with the vinegar and sherry. Let stand 20 minutes. Zest one of the oranges. Finely chop zest and add to the shallots. Squeeze 1⁄3 cup juice from zested orange and add to mixture. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cut asparagus spears in half or fourths and steam for 4 to 5 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain, remove from pan and cool. Toss with vinaigrette. Peel both oranges and slice into

1-inch slices. Arrange asparagus and orange slices on watercress or lettuce, drizzle dressing over both. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on top. Serves 4.

*To toast walnuts, bake in 250 degree oven until browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

 

 

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