Grilled asparagus over rosemary sprigs is an aromatic treat

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In our area, fresh asparagus season usually begins around late March to early April and lasts until the hot summer weather begins, around June or July. Even though it’s available year round, it tastes so much better in the spring.
Asparagus is also one of the healthiest vegetables to eat, containing essential vitamins and minerals and is low in calories. It can be grilled, roasted, steamed, boiled, stir-fried or used in many soups, salads and casseroles.
Fresh asparagus does not require a great deal of cooking time and tastes best when lightly steamed or roasted and served with just a little salt, pepper and melted butter. Overcooking will cause it to lose nutrients, color and flavor. Try adding some herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon or chervil and add a little lemon juice. Fresh, tender asparagus can be used in salads or eaten raw along with a yogurt or sour cream dip.
Asparagus fresh from the garden has a unique taste. If you’re not growing your own, the next best place is your local farmer’s market.
When grilling asparagus, try using some wooden spears (previously soaked in water for a few minutes) and skewer them, side-by-side, creating a “rack” of asparagus. Brush them with some herb butter and place on the grill at medium heat, turning over once until lightly browned. You can also use a grilling basket or a screen placed on the grill. Try putting fresh asparagus over some sprigs of rosemary for an aromatic treat. See my recipe below:
Grilled Asparagus           with Rosemary
3/4 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed
3 Tbsp. olive oil (divided use)
8 thick, long-stemmed rosemary sprigs from the garden
2 strips of lemon zest, julienne
2 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat your grill to medium heat. Toss asparagus with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill grate, or use a foil pan. Arrange some rosemary sprigs on the foil, and then place the asparagus on top of the rosemary. Grill until the asparagus softens and becomes lightly browned all over, turning every minute or so to ensure even cooking, about 10-15 minutes. The asparagus should be crisp and tender.
Remove the asparagus to a platter; discard the rosemary sprigs. Add the lemon zest, garlic, chives, salt and pepper and the remaining olive oil. Toss to coat well and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Roasted Asparagus
If you don’t want to use the grill, roasted asparagus in the oven is my preferred method. Just place them on a cookie sheet seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at high heat for a few minutes.

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed
3 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, shavings

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the asparagus spears on a cookie sheet and season with olive oil, salt and pepper; turn until well coated. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until just tender. To serve, drizzle with the Balsamic vinegar and scatter Parmesan cheese shavings over the top. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Cream of Asparagus Soup with Wine and Brie Cheese
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsps. butter
1 small onion, diced
1 leek, white only, diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
2 tsps. fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups Half & Half
6 oz. Brie cheese, peeled and diced
1-1/4 lbs. asparagus, white bottoms removed and sliced crosswise in one-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat butter and oil until the butter froths. Add onion, leeks, potatoes and salt and cook over medium heat until onions become translucent. Do not let vegetables brown. Add herbs and spices and stir well. Add chicken stock and cream and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cheese and asparagus and simmer until cheese is melted and potatoes are soft.
At this point, remove the asparagus tips and set aside. Puree the soup in small batches or use an emersion blender right in the pot. When serving, add some of the asparagus tips to each bowl. Makes 6-8 servings.
Roasted Asparagus with Tarragon Brie Sauce
18-24 fresh asparagus spears, cut into one-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon leaves
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
8 oz. Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into small pieces
1 Tbsps. lemon juice

In a medium bowl, toss asparagus and red pepper with olive oil. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; allow to cool.
Combine evaporated milk, flour, tarragon, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce begins to thicken. Add Brie and continue to stir until melted. Add lemon juice and cook for one more minute, stirring occasionally.
Place cooked asparagus and red peppers on a serving plate and spoon the tarragon Brie sauce over them. Makes 4 servings.
Asparagus Wild Rice Salad
3 cups asparagus
1 cup smoked salmon (sliced in small chunks)
1 cup cranberries
1 cup red bell pepper (sliced)
2 cups wild rice (uncooked)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt

Cook wild rice to package directions; rinse in cold water. Slice asparagus thin, in short diagonals. Combine asparagus, salmon, cranberries, red bell pepper and cooled, cooked wild rice; mix well. Combine dressing ingredients. Toss dressing with salad. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.