Monday, April 7, 2014

OMG a Recipe: Greeting Spring With AsparaGUSTO

I get a little crazy around asparagus season. Maybe because it's literally like tasting Spring. When you're eating asparagus in season and it's not costing, like, $8 a pound because it was barged over from a continent away, you know the cold weather season is coming to an end. Things are growing again, leaves will start to bud, flowers are ready to bloom. Asparagus isn't in season for very long, you just enjoy the weird, alien-looking stalks for the time it's available, but you definitely feel a change in the air. Celebrating asparagus season is like you're actively taking a role in how our plates will be having a delightful, dramatic makeover. And yes, your pee will smell weird. Viva Asparagusto!

Once more, with Asparagusto! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I can seriously eat a whole bundle of asparagus in a single sitting. I tend to roast it, which shrinks it down quite a bit, but concentrates that unique grassy, unctuous flavor that it has, which has always made it the bane of wine sommeliers when trying to pair wines with it. It's such a flavorful vegetable to pair with protein sides, but I don't see why it can't be the star, or at least a key player in an ensemble cast, performing on a dinner plate near you.

Spring is a weirdo time in the Pacific Northwest. For all the rare pictures of sunny days and people frolicking in the streets of Seattle with armfuls of tulips, there's the days of bucket-dumping spring showers and ridiculous hailstorms that seem to come out of nowhere. Buckshot-sized pieces of ice, pelting you from the skies with endless fury -- it's like God wants to shoot ALL OUR EYES OUT with his Red Ryder BB Gun of Weatherstorms. And even with the sun's cameo appearances now and then, I wouldn't call the weather "warm." There's still hard frosts in the morning, the heater continues to make our electric bill expensive, and there are some days where I refuse to get out of my fetching jammies/robe layered ensemble. But hey, because of that, we can still make delicious roasty things in the oven.

IGNORE THE INSANE HAILSTORM - continue admiring Spring and edible greens - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Along with roasting asparagus, I put the oven to work before that making a big batch of romesco sauce. We can thank Spain, and its rain that stays mainly on the plain, for coming up with this delicious and versatile red pepper sauce. The ingredients vary, but the typical romesco has roasted red peppers, almonds or pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, toasted bread, and vinegar, all pureed into a thick sauce. Variants include tomato-based ones with onions, and ones using different peppers. It's one of those catch-all sauces that reflect what's in season and regional ingredients, which just means it's totally okay to make it how you want it.

My version had roasted Roma tomatoes and onion, and jarred roasted red peppers. I've done the char/peel method with red peppers at home, but the jarred ones were on sale that week, so hooray for shortcuts. I used almonds and bread crumbs to give it thickness, and just adjusted with salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar to taste and for desired consistency. The key ingredient was smoked paprika. That's one thing I really like in my version of romesco sauce, which adds incredible flavor and I'd miss that smoky flavor if it wasn't there.

The romesco sauce, on top of roasted asparagus, and then layered with creamy scrambled eggs, was my obsession meal for a while. I was buying bundles of asparagus on sale and was making this colorful, Cthulhu-looking pile of food meal for days. I have to say this is my new favorite way to enjoy asparagus, and it's delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You could fry the egg sunny side-up, or even poach the eggs, but soft scrambled eggs just melt into the romesco like a sauce all its own, and since you really need to butter a pan well to get that perfect scrambled creaminess, it's basically like butter-eggs. And that's pretty awesome.

The springtime sights to enjoy when not eating asparagus - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Whether it's asparagus season or not, I highly recommend putting romesco sauce into your routine of food sauces. Not as acidic as a fully tomato-based marinara, it's a meatless ragu which can top pasta and vegetables for Meatless Mondays, and it's just as delicious cold, as a dipping sauce. Consider using chilled romesco as a dip for vegetables.

Romesco Sauce

2 roasted, seeded, peeled red bell peppers (can used jarred red pepper as well)
2 Roma tomatoes
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of roasted almonds
1/2 cup of toasted bread crumbs
1/4 cup of olive oil (can be more or less, to adjust consistency)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Turn your broiler on and place the red peppers on a baking sheet. Place under the broiler for 15 minutes, turning regularly to get the entire surface of the peppers to char black. You can do this directly on a gas burner as well. When the peppers are completely blackened, remove from the oven and place in a plastic bag or on a plate, immediately covering with plastic wrap. You want the peppers to continue to steam, which will make the skins easier to remove.

Set the oven temperature lower, to 375F and halve the tomatoes and onion. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and place on a baking sheet to roast until soft, and shrunken-down, about 20-25 minutes. 

While you're waiting for the tomatoes and onion to roast, peel the skins off the red peppers and remove the seeds and stem. It's fine if not all the charred bits come off, they'll add flavor. 

Place the roasted tomatoes, peppers and onion into a food processor with the roasted almonds and garlic cloves -- pulse a few times to get the ingredients chopped small. Add the dry spices and bread crumbs and drizzle in the vinegar and olive oil while the processor runs, to fully blend the sauce. Taste as you go -- you can adjust the spice level and consistency of the sauce with the olive oil, making it as thick or thin as you like. The sauce will thicken a little once it's refrigerated. 

Keep the finished sauce in a sealed container, in your refrigerator. Serve cold or heated - it's really an "everything" sauce.

1 comment:

  1. Love your ode to asparagus! And the recipe looks bomb. I've had it three times so far this season. Spring is springing out here in eastern WA too. By next month, the asparagus gets even fresher coming from over here! Of course, I tend to pair it with steak. Great post! - Bridget (@WABeef)


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