Today: How to eat the whole asparagus, from tip to tail.
Whether you're a snapper or a slicer, lopping off the ends of a bunch of asparagus can feel almost as senseless as throwing away your own arm. Good asparagus is expensive and fleeting, so why do we waste so much of it? Do we have to?
I would wager that, despite our guilt, we throw away up to a third of the asparagus we buy—because fighting through a segment that's chewy or stringy would be worse. Harold McGee says we can shave the tougher ends into thin coins, but that only gets us so far. All the way to that dry scar at the end, asparagus still has something to offer, even if it's not texture or looks.
Consider soup. To make her chilled asparagus and almond soup, Annie Wayte—the author of Keep it Seasonal and chef at White Hart in the Berkshires—takes all the untapped asparagi ends and turns them into a quick vegetable stock.
More: Did you know we have a whole column about cooking with scraps? We do.
By adding the stock to a puréed asparagus soup, she gets the bright grassiness that comes with quickly cooking them, but a richer, earthier layer too. Suddenly, the least wasteful course of action is also the most flavorful (without a lot of extra trouble).
This is a well-constructed nose-to-tail recipe, in which Wayte uses the entirety of 2 bunches of asparagus in one complete dish, but no matter what you're doing with the rest of your bunches, you can and should simmer the ends. "Instead of a soup," Wayte told me, "you can use the same broth in a risotto or for the base of a pasta sauce." Braised fish or simmered grains or green juices might be more good ends for your ends.
And since we're thinking about waste, this recipe calls for the light belly section of a leek and half a garlic clove—you know where the remains can go. I think Wayte would approve.
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed (trimmings reserved), and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek (white part only, green part reserved), sliced
1/2 clove garlic or 1 bulb spring garlic, trimmed
2 ounces blanched almonds (1/2 cup slivered)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Squeeze of lemon juice
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Photos by James Ransom