Asparagus a gustatory rite of spring

Now is the time for fixing fresh asparagus.

Now is the time for fixing fresh asparagus. Photo by Don Fleming.

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Fresh asparagus does best with simple treatments.

Asparagus tips

Fresh asparagus doesn’t need to be peeled if it’s fresh and has been harvested at the right time. To test for freshness, scrape across part of the lower third of the spear with your fingernail. If a large piece tears off, peel it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

To grill asparagus, it’s always best to blanch (par-cook) it first. Put the asparagus in salted boiling water for exactly 30 seconds (this helps to keep the asparagus moist and not woody). Make sure you have enough boiling water in the pot that it still simmers when the asparagus is added. Once cooked, “shock” immediately in ice water to stop the cooking process. Next, toss with a little of your favorite oil, salt and pepper before grilling to finish.

To boil asparagus, use the same par-cooking technique but boil the spears for about one minute — just until they begin to sag when picked up. Remove from the boiling water and place them in a baking pan to season — again, with your favorite oil, salt and pepper. A squeeze of lemon adds a nice, bright, flavor as well.

Growing up on a cattle ranch in Asotin and working the family farms outside of Lewiston, I have always appreciated the bounty of food available to us here in the beautiful Northwest.

We are very fortunate to have the best of food and wine available right here at our fingertips. For some of us it’s a measure of footsteps, not miles, that our food travels from soil to cutting board. Often we not only know the growers name, but most of the family as well.

The first airplane ride of my life landed me in New York City to attend the Culinary Institute of America — quite a culture change, to say the least. After graduating I continued my training, working three years in Switzerland. After five years away, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Northwest.

Now, after 15 years of restaurants in the Seattle area, I feel like I’ve finally come “home.” I am very grateful to be a part of the

Walla Walla Community College team, to lead the team at the Wine Country Culinary Institute and to be a part of the incredible community that is the Walla Walla Valley.

“Once you have mastered a technique, you barely have to look at a recipe again,” said Julia Child. This is how I like to share food ideas, focused on techniques and not the exact recipes. At the end of the meal, you are the only one who knows if you followed the recipe — but EVERY guest at the table will know if it tasted good or not. Make that your focus.

As we come into spring, local asparagus is just hitting the shelves; some of the best is grown right here in our own Valley. My recommendation: eat as much as you can in the next few months then pickle a bunch at the end of the season to enjoy for the rest of the summer — in salads or as simple front porch appetizers.

Chef Dan Thiessen can be reached at dan.thiessen@wwcc.edu.

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