I’ve always been a fan of asparagus, but I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a discriminating consumer. Wan-looking imports drooping at Safeway? Yes, please. Pencil-thin stalks on sale at Harris Teeter? Sign me up! I did draw the line at canned asparagus, but that’s pretty much it.
Finally, Elizabeth sat me down with a few stalks I had recently purchased in a grocery store and a few more that we bought at the H Street FreshFarm Market one spring, and she implored me to put them to a taste test. It was a revelation.
Suddenly, no store-bought asparagus would do…I knew what the vegetable could taste like, and I refused to settle for less.
These days, I’m quick to pick up the green stuff as soon as it starts appearing at the markets in early spring. I stick with it as the stalks get fatter (and sweeter), and I’ve even ventured into the realm of purple asparagus on one or two occasions. It’s a flavor I just don’t get sick of. I know – that puts me squarely in the minority.
But I found a recipe in our Bon Appetit Cookbook, a massive volume that has compiled an exhaustive collection of the foodie magazine’s best recipes, that is sure to boost the appeal of asparagus to all but the most resistant diners. It combines the sweetness of reduced balsamic vinegar with the mild oniony flavor of shallots and the rich silkiness of butter to create a sauce that really complements the natural flavors of the asparagus nicely.
I started with 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and two finely chopped shallots, which I brought to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Letting the liquid boil off, I reduced it to about one tablespoon in remaining volume. It took close to ten minutes. This would be the basis of my sauce.
Then I cooked one bunch of trimmed asparagus in a saucepan with three tablespoons of butter (at room temperature), three tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. I covered the pan and boiled the veggies over medium high heat, but only for three or four minutes. After that, I took off the cover and allowed the liquid to evaporate completely – it only took about three more minutes.
I added the balsamic-shallot mixture to the asparagus and then tossed everything together. A few grinds of fresh black pepper and we were ready to enjoy this new take on asparagus.
Considering the size of the Bon Appetit Cookbook, it’s surprising to me how rarely we come across a dish that misfires. Whatever we decide to try, Barbara Fairchild and her staff at Bon Appetit always seem to steer us in the right direction.