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It's easy to forget about asparagus' seasonality because it's available year-round. But local asparagus has a freshness unlike that available in November. There is nothing better than seeing the first piles of these beautiful vegetables at the local market.
Asparagus has been known as a sign of spring since the time of Imperial Rome. The word "asparagus" comes from the Greek "asparagos," meaning "to spring up." The ancient Greeks used the term to refer to any tender shoots picked from the spring earth and savored when still young.
When shopping for asparagus, choose stalks that are firm but not hard. As with artichokes, you should look carefully at the leaves that form at the head. The most succulent asparagus will have tightly closed tips that are purplish in color.
For the millennia, humans have devised technologies that make it easier to bring goods and services, produce included, from across the country and the world. It's time to reverse that trend. Produce should start coming from local sources rather than from far away.
In big cities, that may mean looking up. Hydroponic rooftop greenhouses on top of city buildings will revive the notion of local food production in urban centers. Shortening the supply chain will shrink our carbon footprint and better our produce.
On Earth Day this year (April 22), all of my restaurants will design dishes with a low carbon footprint. We'll make a special effort to source from local producers to help raise awareness about the power of what we buy and eat.
Asparagus can be blanched, grilled or steamed, and served simply with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But this citrus-walnut pesto adds a delicious zing.
Asparagus with walnut-orange pesto and citronette
Recipe courtesy of "Molto Batali" (ecco, 2011)
2 pounds medium asparagus, thick ends snapped off
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly ground Pecorino Romano
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Set a large ice bath nearby.
When the water comes to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until just softened, 1 minute. Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to the ice bath. When it has cooled, drain and set aside.
Make the pesto: Juice one of the oranges, removing any seeds, and set the juice aside for later. Chop what is left of the juiced orange - pith, rind, interior fruit and all - along with the remaining orange (again removing any seeds), and place the chopped orange in the bowl of a food processor. Add the walnuts, garlic, sugar, 1 cup of the olive oil and 1/4 cup of the pecorino to the processor, and blend until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a bowl, and season it with salt and pepper to taste. If it's too thick, add up to 1/4 cup of the reserved juice to loosen it up. (This pesto will last for 1 week in the fridge if the surface is covered with a layer of oil.)
To make the citronette, place the reserved orange juice and the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a small bowl, and whisk to form a thin emulsion.
Arrange the cooked asparagus on a serving platter, and spoon the walnut-orange pesto over the stems. Drizzle the orange citronette over all. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons pecorino, and serve.
Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish.