I think I speak for all of us on the east coast when I say, FINALLY. Winter can see its sorry self out the door for another nine months or so. I'm preoccupied by my true loves, the asparagus that have arrived,* and I can't bring myself to talk about much of anything else.
*As I'm writing this, asparagus season hasn't really started here in Washington.** Usually I'm a stickler, waiting with embarrassing impatience for local farmers to harvest their crop. But this year, weeks after I ran out of creative uses for beets and kale, the asparagus still hadn't made their debut at my farmers' market, and yet there they were on display at the Whole Foods, skinny little bundles of asparagus from California. Are they as good as the ones grown nearby? Not even close. But I figure since all my citrus comes from the west coast anyway, I may as well start spring vegetable season a bit early, too.
This is a great recipe for those transitional weeks, when the produce isn't gleaming and perfect. The WF asparagus had a longer woody stem than I'm used to, so I removed those and sliced the rest of the spear on the bias into short coins. Over medium-high heat, I sauteed them rather unevenly in plenty of butter, so some just barely cooked through while others got nicely browned and crisp.
There's pretty much nothing you can do to mess up a good slice of bread slathered with ricotta. Adding browned, buttery asparagus: not an exception. To keep things bright, I ran to a flavor combination that I think I originally saw in the Zuni Cafe cookbook: pistachios, orange, mint.
If you time things right, you'll catch the tail end of citrus season: these toasts really benefit from the zest of a good orange (or blood orange) and the juice from a meyer lemon.
The weather's still bouncing back and forth here, one day as beautiful as it gets and the next cold and rainy. Spring isn't predictable, but there's one thing I can guarantee the coming weeks will bring: plenty more asparagus recipes.
** In the end, it took me almost a week to get this post live, and as of right this very instant, ASPARAGUS SEASON HAS STARTED!!
Asparagus Toasts with Pistachios and Mint
Makes 4 toasts
1 small bunch (about 8 spears) asparagus, rinsed and trimmed, sliced into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes (I like Turkish chile)
zest of half an orange or one lemon
1/3 cup good ricotta
4 half-slices of very good crusty bread (I like sourdough)
leaves from one sprig of mint, rinsed and torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons salted (shelled) pistachios, coarsely chopped
small wedge of lemon
Heat butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. When butter foams, add asparagus and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add turkish chile and citrus zest. Cook, tossing pan occasionally to prevent sticking, until asparagus are on the crunchy side of tender and golden brown in spots; I found that this took around 3-4 minutes for stalks on the thin side. Set pan aside and allow asparagus to cool slightly.
Toast bread in a toaster or hot oven to your liking. (I'm a golden girl.) Spread a thick layer of ricotta onto the toast slices, and divide the asparagus spears evenly among the toasts. Finish with a pinch of mint, a sprinkle of pistachios, and a squeeze of lemon. Serve immediately.