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It's spring, so think green -- think asparagus

Recipe: Celebrate the new season with an easy vegetable side

White plate with green asparagus and red bowl with mustard sauce
Fresh and delicious, asparagus heralds the start of spring. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

I'm so happy to see asparagus show up. It means spring is here and all the other great vegetables of the season will soon follow.

Grilled asparagus is my favorite, but roasted is right behind. And with propane still hard to find (thanks, COVID-19), I'd just as soon use my oven as much as possible now to cook and hope I can fire up the grill for real later.

Asparagus stalks, a leek, some parsley and a small cup of capers
Thicker asparagus stalks stand up to roasting.


This roasting recipe, adapted from one by the New York Times' Melissa Clark, specifically calls for fatter asparagus stalks, which I prefer anyway. I grew up in Stockton, which once was the center of asparagus farming in California. Something about that Delta soil, I think.

Fatter asparagus comes from plants just beginning to produce, and though a thick stalk has a tough end,  its flesh actually is more tender than a thin one. I tend to snap the ends off, because I don't have the patience to peel the stalks. The ends can be saved to make soup or can be steamed and chopped to add to other dishes.

The sauce here is optional but it is excellent. Just saying. And don't skip the fresh lemon juice -- it cuts through the richness of the Dijon mustard beautifully.

Roasted Asparagus With Crispy Leeks and Capers

Serves 3-4 as a first course or side

Ingredients:

1 pound thick asparagus stalks (1/2-inch diameter or larger), ends trimmed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Asparagus, leeks and capers on baking pan
The vegetables are easy to prepare and roast.
1 large leek, cleaned and trimmed to the light green and white part, then split lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons drained capers

1 lemon, halved, then cut into 8 wedges (some will be used in the sauce)

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

For sauce:

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons drained capers, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place trimmed asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Put the leek slices in a bowl and stir in the other 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Scatter the leeks over the asparagus on the pan, then scatter the capers over that.

Roast the asparagus 12-18 minutes, until the asparagus is tender and showing some golden brown.

Make the sauce while the asparagus is roasting. Stir together the mustard, capers and garlic in a bowl, then slowly stir in, 1 at a time, the 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it forms a thickish emulsion. Squeeze the juice from two of the lemon wedges into the sauce, and stir until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Mustard sauce in a red bowl, lemon slices and parsley
I got a little carried away when cutting up the lemon.
Slicing each half into fourths is sufficient. Two wedges
of juice are used in the sauce.
When the asparagus comes out of the oven, squeeze two or three of the remaining lemon wedges over the stalks, then sprinkle the parsley over them.

Serve with the mustard sauce and the remaining lemon wedges on the side.

I highly recommend serving small white beans with this if it is part of a full meal -- the beans play especially well with the leeks and the mustard.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Nov. 27

Before the rain comes later in the week, take advantage of sunny, calm days:

* This may be your last chance this season for the first application of copper fungicide spray to peach and nectarine trees. Leaf curl, which shows up in the spring, is caused by a fungus that winters as spores on the limbs and around the tree in fallen leaves. Sprays are most effective now, but they need a few days of dry weather after application to really “stick.” If you haven’t yet, spray now.

* Rake and compost leaves, but dispose of any diseased plant material. For example, if peach and nectarine trees showed signs of leaf curl this year, clean up under trees and dispose of those leaves instead of composting.

* Make sure storm drains are clear of any debris.

* Give your azaleas, gardenias and camellias a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim chrysanthemums to 6 to 8 inches above the ground after they’re done blooming. Keep potted mums in their containers until next spring. Then, they can be planted in the ground, if desired, or repotted.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while dormant.

* Plant bulbs for spring bloom. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Other suggestions: daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, anemones and scillas.

* Seed wildflowers including California poppies.

* Also from seed, plant sweet pea, sweet alyssum, bachelor buttons and other spring flowers.

* Plant most trees and shrubs. This gives them plenty of time for root development before spring growth. They also benefit from winter rains.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cool-season greens can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* If you decide to use a living Christmas tree this year, keep it outside in a sunny location until Christmas week. This reduces stress on the young tree.

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