Get your asparagus cooking!

Many people like to talk about asparagus not always for it’s delicious taste and versatility but for the smell that can come of eating it or it’s aphrodisiac qualities. I’m glad that it makes an appearance in many conversations though, and happily when I am talking about it, it’s all culinary! 
You can grow asparagus well here in Ontario, we are very lucky this spring vegetable, which makes an early appearance for cooks is a perennial, so you can enjoy it year after year. These long shoots can produce asparagus for well over 10 years when cared for. Right now you can see local asparagus popping up all over local markets, farms and grocery stores so you can start enjoying it with your backyard grilled dinners, in salads, soups or with cheese as part of a crudite platter.
This healthy green vegetable is a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be used easily in a variety of ways. 
When you’re buying your asparagus be sure to look for tight tips and stems that are not dried out at the bottom. Firm, straight spears are fresh and best enjoyed the same day, but I’ve been known to buy a few extra bunches to use over the course of a couple of days. And if you do the same make sure you keep them refrigerated and keep the bottoms moist if you can.
You can steam, boil, roast or saute asparagus but my favourite way to prepare asparagus is grilled. There is something that I love about the slightly crisp, grilled exterior with the slight crunch of the asparagus that I truly enjoy right off the grill. I like to add it to grilled vegetable platters, on it’s own alongside a juicy steak or wrap each spear with prosciutto and grill them for an easy and quick appetizer to enjoy with a heavy sprinkling of fresh Parmesan cheese and drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
I decided to take my local asparagus and play up my love of all things Italian and grill up these two dishes for you to enjoy this long weekend. Great for a family get together or neighbourhood gathering, pick up some Ontario asparagus this week and get grilling this long weekend! Happy cooking!

Grilled Asparagus Panzanella Salad

This combination of tomatoes and bread is only enhanced with the crisp grilled spears of asparagus. Feel free to grill up the whole bunch of asparagus for added green colour and flavour and add it to the salad. I love serving this salad up with grilled chicken or steak, perfect for any weekend.

Prep: 10 minutes
Grill: 5 minutes

4 slices bread (I like to use a rustic crusty oval bread loaf and slice it myself)
1/4 cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Half a bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed
3 hothouse tomatoes, chopped
3 tbsp (45 mL) red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano leaves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt 
Pinch fresh ground pepper

Brush bread with some of the oil. Toss asparagus with a little of the oil. Place both on greased grill over medium high heat and grill turning occasionally for 4 minutes or until toast is golden and asparagus is tender but still crisp. Let cool slightly.

Chop bread to make about 3 cups (750 mL) and chop asparagus.

Toss tomatoes with remaining oil, vinegar, garlic and oregano. Stir in chopped bread and asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Let stand 10 minutes before serving for flavours to marry.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tip: Taste the salad after it has sat for 10 minutes and re-season if necessary. 

More flavour: Stir in 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh basil or parsley to heighten that summer fresh flavour.

Grilled Asparagus Caprese Salad

Fresh mozzarella cheese comes in all shapes and sizes and for this salad I used a large buffalo mozzarella ball that I tore into pieces for that rustic look. You can also use boconccini for this salad instead. Thinly slice a few fresh basil leaves and sprinkle over top if you like before serving.

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes

Half a bunch of fresh asparagus, trimmed
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste) 
1 large fresh mozzarella ball (200 g), drained
2 cups (500 mL) baby arugula
16 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
Aged balsamic vinegar or glaze

Toss asparagus with some of the oil and pinch each of salt and pepper. Grill asparagus on greased grill over medium high heat, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes or until tender but still crisp. Cut asparagus in half on the diagonal; set aside.

Divide arugula over 4 dinner plates. Pull mozzarella ball apart into pieces and place decoratively over the plates and arugula. Divide asparagus and tomatoes over top. Drizzle with remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic before serving.

Makes 4 servings.


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