Growth Spurt

Spring has finally sprung here in central Virginia after a long, hard winter. With the warmer temperatures, one of my all-time favorite vegetables is in its prime. This vegetable and I have quite a few things in common. We are both tall. We are both thin. We are both good for you. And we both had a remarkable growth spurt. Height was not something I was gifted with during my earlier years. I was always a bit of a short, squat fella, perhaps more comparable to a potato or a rutabaga. That all began to change just as I prepared to leave home and embark upon my college experience. I went through my growth spurt and gained several inches over the course of a few months. Not only was this physically painful, but it wreaked havoc on my clothing. One look at my jeans and you would think I was waiting for the next big flood. The vegetable I write about today is capable of growing at a faster rate than I ever did. It can easily gain several inches in just one day. No small feat for these luscious green stalks sprouting up from the ground reaching for the heavens. Surely you’re on to me at this point. The vegetable we are discussing and eating today is none other than the mighty asparagus!

Not only are they visually stunning in their appearance, they are versatile, healthy, and darn delicious. Although there are many preparation methods for these little stalks of green, I recently came to the realization that I’m in an asparagus rut. I cook it the same way, nearly every single time. Although there’s nothing wrong with roasting asparagus in the oven at a very high temperature or steaming it until it’s a vibrant green color, I wanted to expand my horizons. I wanted to encapsulate the feeling of spring and put it on a plate. The gears in my head started to turn, which can sometimes be quite a scary thing. After some careful thought and consideration, I went outside my comfort zone and decided to create a warm asparagus salad. I drew some of my inspiration from recipes I found online, but I still managed to put that Taste Bud twist on things by adding some exciting and bold flavor profiles. With the outcome of this dish very much uncertain, I made a list, rounded up my ingredients, took a deep breath, and got down to business.

To make this warm asparagus salad, here’s what you’ll need:

1 pound of fresh asparagus
1 large shallot, or half of a red onion
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of chopped basil
3 pieces of diced cooked bacon
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Not only is this salad easy to make, but it’s also pretty affordable during the spring, since in-season ingredients are generally cheaper. The first step is to do the asparagus snap test. Take one stalk of your fresh asparagus (don’t even think about using that slimy stuff from a can) and bend it toward the bottom of the stalk until it snaps. Wherever it naturally snaps is about how much you should trim off of your remaining asparagus spears. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll usually have to lob off around 2-3 inches. You can either discard or save this part of the asparagus for vegetable stock, since these end pieces will be quite woody and inedible. Now that you have removed the tough part of your asparagus, the remaining parts should be tender and delicious.

Get out a sharp knife and cut your asparagus into little rounds. We are going for fairly tiny pieces here. Start at the bottom of the spear and go all the way up to the tip. When you’ve chopped them all up, they should look like this:

Now it’s time to make this a warm salad. We add a little heat to the mix by placing our chopped asparagus into a pan, with a drizzle of olive oil. Put the pan on the stove over a low to medium heat. The goal here isn’t to cook the asparagus until it’s a pile of mush. We simply want to let them soften in the pan for a few minutes until they are tender, but still retain a bit of their crunch.

After only 2-3 minutes they should be perfect. Add a little bit of salt and pepper at this point. Dump the soft, but still slightly crunch asparagus into a mixing bowl.

This will serve as the base for our salad. The asparagus will be the stars of the salad, but it’s time to add the supporting flavors. Let’s work quickly, since the warm asparagus pieces will essentially act like little sponges and soak up any flavors you add at this point. First, let’s add one finely-diced large shallot. If you don’t have a shallot, you could easily substitute about half of a red onion. This will create a bright color combination that will mimic the spring colors you might see out of your own kitchen window.

Aren’t those colors just awesome? I always think about how food is going to look when it hits the plate, because we truly do eat with our eyes first. To brighten things up a bit more from visual and taste perspectives, we turn to my friend the lemon. Nothing really wakes up your taste buds more than a squirt of sour citrus. Plus, the lemon is a natural pairing with asparagus. Add the zest and juice of one large lemon. When I say the zest, I mean the yellow part of the lemon that can be removed with a grater or even a knife. Be sure not to get any of the white part beneath the zest, as it has a very bitter flavor and won’t be pleasant. The zest contains tons of natural oils and is simply bursting with flavor! Make sure you zest before you get the juice. It just won’t work out if you try to do it the other way around.

Now that you’ve got an acidic bite with your lemon, let’s balance that out with some sweet things. Add your sugar and chopped basil. Both ingredients will add a delicate sweetness, serving as a counterpart to the sour notes we just added.


Now that we have added some sweetness, let’s put in some big salty flavors. That means it’s time to get cheesy by adding your grated Parmesan cheese.

It’s no secret that I have an extreme weakness for salty things, so I don’t stop with the cheese. It’s time to bring out one of the biggest heavy hitters in the culinary arena. It’s time to summon the big guns. It’s time to bust out the bacon. Triumphantly add your diced, cooked bacon to the mixture.

Sigh. I’m in love. You know what coming next. Oh yeah, another picture of the bacon!

Finally, add your olive oil over the mixture and give everything a BIG stir. Taste for salt and pepper and add either one accordingly.

After it’s all mixed, it’s ready! Grab a plate and serve it up.

Grab a fork and dig in! It’s the perfect spring bite. The asparagus will still be warm and slightly crunchy, with a fresh, almost grassy flavor. The lemon will add a big acidic bite, while the sugar and basil will balance that out with their subtle sweetness. The bacon and cheese will deliver the salt needed to make this pure spring satisfaction.

This salad doesn’t refrigerate well, but odds are you won’t have too many leftovers. This would be the perfect accompaniment to some grilled chicken or fish. As you savor this salad, let it be a gentle reminder of spring and new beginnings. Be thankful for the vegetable that goes through a tremendous growth spurt, deftly sprouting forth from the ground, just so it can wind up on your plate. Spring and asparagus. They go hand in hand. Most importantly they go from ground to plate and then from hand to mouth.

What is your favorite way to prepare asparagus? Share your ideas with me in the comments section!

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud

Ready To Roast!

Nothing makes me feel more accomplished in the kitchen than when I’m able to turn somebody on to a food that they thought they could never like. When the pickiest of eaters come by for a meal, it’s time to pull out the big guns. One weapon in my culinary arsenal that can transform an ingredient like no other is that of roasting. Using high temperatures and just a few basic seasonings, you can create a depth of flavor that will make a believer out of the harshest of critics. Did I mention that it’s E-A-S-Y?

Here’s what you’ll need:

Vegetables that you’d like to roast. First up, I’m doing broccoli and cauliflower.
Olive oil
(Did I mention it was E-A-S-Y?)

Give your veggies a nice gentle rinse to get them ready for their trip to roasting town. After the rinse, make sure you dry the vegetables off VERY well. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you put these vegetables into the oven covered with H2O, they will simply steam instead of roast, meaning you will miss out on lots of flavor. This will cause lots of sadness and tears. For goodness sake, pat those suckers dry! Get every ounce of moisture off of them. When they’re dry and cut into bite-sized pieces you’re ready to put them on the roasting pan. A cookie tray lined with aluminum foil will do the trick just nicely. By lining the pan with foil, you’re creating a clean-up process that will take you the amount of time it takes to wad up a piece of foil. Now that’s what I call doing the dishes!

When your veggies are on the tray, give them a good drizzle of olive oil (this isn’t the place for vegetable, canola, or any other kind of oil). Also hit them up with some salt and pepper. That’s really all you need. Did I mention that this was E-A-S-Y? Give them a nice mix with your hands and you’re ready to slam them in the oven. Place your roasting tray with vegetables into a pre-heated 425 degree oven and just wait. Watch some TV. Read a good book. Sip some wine. After about 10 minutes, take a look inside the oven to see what’s happening. You should start to see the edges of the vegetables getting nice and brown. The broccoli will start to get a little crunchy looking. Take your pan out of the oven and give the vegetables a nice shake to give the other sides a chance to get nice and brown. Cooking at a high temperature like this allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to caramelize, giving them an entirely different flavor. Even the biggest broccoli haters might be surprised at just how different and exciting the flavor can become when roasted. Yes, I just said broccoli can be exciting. After another 10 minutes or so, you’re going to have perfectly roasted and caramelized cauliflower and broccoli. Your cooking times may vary slightly depending on the whims of your oven. Your nose and eyes will tell you when it’s done. You don’t want to burn it, but don’t be afraid of letting it brown. Here’s what it should look like when it is perfectly cooked:

That brown color you see there is pure flavor!! It’ll melt in your mouth and make your taste buds do back flips. Of course now all you need is a plate and a hungry mouth. There’s always a hungry mouth, or two, or three in my kitchen.

For an extra pop of flavor, you could add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese while the vegetables are still piping hot. These roasted gems make a hearty side dish that can stand up next to some bold flavors on the dinner table!

Next up, a vegetable that has a bit more of a following…asparagus! Don’t you dare touch that steamer. We are roasting today!

Using the same procedure as before, line the asparagus out in a single layer on your roasting pan. Make sure not to have them too close together. They need room to breathe! If they’re too close together, they’ll steam. Remember the sadness and tears that will cause? Don’t make me cry. We want caramelizing and optimum flavor building to take place. Like your teenager who is becoming increasingly independent, give those things some space!

Give them a generous drizzle of olive oil, then a hearty helping of salt and pepper and they’re ready. Sometimes to give an extra burst of freshness, I like to liven things up with a squirt of lemon juice. You’d be surprised how a squeeze from one wedge of lemon will brighten up the party. Give it a try, but don’t go overboard.

Now put those asparagus into a pre-heated 425 degree oven and leave them alone. Let them develop their flavor undisturbed for about 10 minutes, then give them a check. They may need a little shuffling. Let them go for about 5 more minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.

Now you’re ready to eat! When they’re finished, they’ll look like this:

Again, the brown you see there is pure flavor! When you roast asparagus, it will take on a nutty type of flavor profile. The tops will get all crispy and crunchy. The flavor will be totally transformed and amplified. Asparagus cooked this way will stand up nicely to your favorite steak or seafood. It’s ready to eat just the way it is. By the way, this doesn’t have to be dinner food. Feel free to serve it up with your scrambled eggs in the morning. It can make a wonderful addition to your breakfast!

Now, armed with this new knowledge of how wonderful roasting can be, get into the kitchen and be creative! The possibilities are endless and you just might be able to make a believer out of even the most discriminating of eaters. I’d love to hear your tips and comments on roasting success stories. Leave your comments at the bottom of this blog!

Happy roasting,

The Taste Bud