A Season for Spears
The Valley’s top chefs use the all-purpose asparagus stalk in soups, salads, and even as a substitute for pasta
Mid-spring is prime harvest season for asparagus in the Hudson Valley, and local restaurants and residents alike are taking advantage of the abundance of this tasty vegetable. Not only are the vivid green spears powerful in both color and flavor, they also give your body a boost of folic acid; potassium; vitamins A, C, and B6; and fiber. Early Native Americans used asparagus for medicinal purposes, including as a remedy for kidney and bladder problems (dried asparagus is a natural diuretic).
Not only is asparagus healthful and delicious; the plant itself is somewhat extraordinary. The spears can grow up to 10 inches in a 24-hour period, and the plants (which are part of the lily family) can produce for up to 15 years without being replanted. After harvesting, the spears grow into attractive ferns with red berries that retain food and nutrients for the following year’s harvest.
Local chefs are well-versed in the many ways this popular plant can be prepared. Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville always keeps a few asparagus dishes on his menu. “Everyone knows asparagus, and it’s delicious in every form,” he says. “We currently have a grilled asparagus with pine nuts and garlic, and we also include it in one of our steak dishes.
“We also include a raw version, just because it has so many healthful active enzymes in that form,” Guiliano continues. “The health benefits are just astonishing; it’s a phenomenal superfood, and it’s delicious no matter what you do with it.”
Megan Fells, chef at the Artist’s Palate in Poughkeepsie, agrees. “I love asparagus because it’s such a versatile vegetable,” Fells says. “It can be used in salads, soups, as a side dish for meats, and in tarts and soufflés. One of my favorite is as a mock pasta — you can grill up slices of the spears and mix them with extra virgin olive oil for a flavor that really pops.”
At one time, the Valley Restaurant at the Garrison showcased just-picked asparagus grown on its own two-acre farm. Sadly, that is no longer the case: The crop is hard to establish, says co-chef Brandon Collins, a factor that made it too arduous a task for farmers at the Garrison Farm to continue cultivating it in their fields. “It takes around two to three years for the plants to get going,” Collins says. “After that initial period, they produce for a long time, but it’s just so difficult to get them started.”
The Valley now gets its asparagus from local farms, but that hasn’t changed the way Collins serves up the sumptuous spears. “We usually try to run a blanched asparagus salad with a bacon vinaigrette and bleu cheese,” he says. “It’s really popular with the customers, and blanching is my favorite way to serve the vegetable. We also usually include it in our veggie plate with other local produce.
“The best part about in-season asparagus is the way it tastes,” Collins continues enthusiastically. “When you get it off-season it has a rather bitter flavor, but locally grown, in-season asparagus can be really sweet and fruity — almost like an apple.”
Asparagus Flan with Jumbo Lump Crab & Herb Salad
Chef Megan Fells, The Artist’s Palate
This flan makes a great side dish for fish. It can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
What you’ll need:
- 1 lb. asparagus, peeled,bottoms trimmed
- 3 shallots, finely chopped
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 1 ½ cups cream
- 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
- ¾ tsp salt or to taste
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tsp chopped tarragon
- 1 tsp Meyer lemon zest
- 3 eggs
How it’s done:
- Cut the asparagus in one-inch diagonal pieces, reserving the tips. Melt butter in a large sauté pan, and sauté shallots and asparagus until tender, about 15 minutes.
- Purée mixture in food processor until smooth. If there are tough fibers, pass mixture through a fine sieve to remove them.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees; lightly coat six ½-cup ramekins with butter.
- Transfer puréed asparagus to a bowl, and mix in eggs, heavy cream, cheese, tarragon, lemon, salt, and pepper. Divide mixture among ramekins, then place them in a large baking pan. Fill baking pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the ramekins; place in oven to bake.
- Bake until flan is set, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack.
- While flan is cooking, blanch asparagus tips in boiling salted water; cool in ice water to retain color.
Crab & Herb Salad
What you’ll need:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 2 tsp chopped chives (¼-inch pieces)
- 2 tsp chopped parsley
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat, picked over for shells
How it’s done:
- In a bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, and herbs.
- Add the crab meat and asparagus tips to the dressing, and re-season if necessary
- Run a sharp paring knife around the outside of each ramekin. Place on plate, and top with salad. Garnish with fresh organic flower petals or micro-arugula.
Hungry for more?
Aroma Thyme Bistro is a “Best of the Hudson Valley” winner! Check out our Best of the Hudson Valley feature, read our exclusive Aroma Thyme restaurant review, or catch up on them as part of our “Best New Restaurants.”