I was doodling around one of my favorite used book stores downtown when I found the cookbook section -- jackpot! After lots of comparison and debating with myself, I decided on The Garden Fresh Vegetable Cookbook by Andrea Chesman. She's a gardener who cooks almost strictly seasonally; similar to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle venture for Barbara Kingsolver, seasonal cooking involves making the most of what's growing in your garden when its at its best. My mom and stepdad are fans of this as well, during the mid to late summer their garden looks like a little piece of Eden! I'll include some later sections on growing some of your own produce, so sit tight.
Anywho. Back to Ms. Chesman. One of the things about this book that caught my eye is that it has a section for each vegetable, and one of those veggies is asparagus. I've always (well, in my adult life) had an appreciation for asparagus but the vegetable itself seemed a little...intimidating. I had tried a few methods of cooking and while they turned out fine, I felt I must have been doing something wrong since I wasn't getting the "tender and sweet" vegetable these books were raving about.
I ran across a recipe for Asparagus Sticks. This was intriguing; a new way to make asparagus?! Considering I had two bunches in my refridgerator haunting me, I decided to give it a whirl. I used white asparagus because it's what I had, but either type will do.
A few notes on this recipe -- panko is a Japanese style bread crumb. I bought them because it's what the recipe called for, plus they were cheap and on sale. If you can't find them I see no problem with using regular bread crumbs, the panko is mostly for texture (as photos will demonstrate). It's similar to gratings you get from a Microplane zester, which is a must-have for any kitchen aficianado! I used mine to grate the parmesean for this recipe, which definitely assisted in the texture.
Chesman says that the lemon juice is essential and brings all the flavors together. I agree, but I also think the end flavor might be a little intense for some people. The kid in me enjoyed these sticks dipped in marinara sauce, so don't be afraid to branch out. Speaking of which, this would probably be a successful way to sneak vegetables into your kids' diets ;]
Panko Asparagus Sticks
1/2tsp Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste
1/2c shredded parmesean or other hard cheese
15-30 asparagus spears (this number is based more on how much you want to eat, batter is flexible)
1. Trim or snap asparagus. If you're unsure how to do this, hold each end of the spear and bend -- it will always snap in the right place, where the fibrous stalk ends and the tender veggie begins. For most cuts of spears at the store, this is around halfway. Note that you can still keep the fibrous portions to flavor other dishes, so don't throw them away just yet! (recipe coming soon)
2. In a shallow bowl, whisk the egg, mustard, pepper and salt together. On a plate, combine the panko and cheese. Preheat the oven to 400, and lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil.
3. Dip each spear into the egg mixture, then roll in crumbs to coat. Place on the baking sheet.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes, then flip to the other side. Bake for another 12-15 minutes or until fully browned. Serve with a lemon wedge.
In terms of taste, these were pretty darn good. They were messy though. Something I would suggest is slicing the asparagus you plan to use in half once more to create smaller pieces -- the fibers were the main culprit for the mess, but on some pieces that snapped on their own it wasn't a problem.
The little balls you see are makeshift hush puppies. Thanks to my Southern upbringing, nothing in my kitchen goes to waste! I even have tiny tupperware containers for storing leftover eggs or whites from recipes calling for yolks-only. I still had a good bit of panko and egg mix left over, so I mixed them and rolled them into balls. I baked them with the spears and they came out just fine, very close to "real" hush puppies.