Recipe: Asparagus and Three Dipping Sauces

Dig into a trio of fun and flavorful sauces to spruce up spring asparagus—plus tips
Blanched asparagus with hollandaise, romesco and chimichurri sauces

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

The bounty of asparagus popping up at the grocery stores is a sure sign of spring. We are lucky that asparagus from warmer climes is available most of the year, but spring is when domestic asparagus is in season and its journey to us is shorter and sweeter. It’s therefore usually at a more favorable price, too.

A dab of melted butter and a little salt and pepper is always a nice simple way to serve these spring spears, but you’ll need some ideas to switch things up a little while you’re taking advantage of the plentiful veggie.

Here we have three appealing sauces to choose from or you can make them all. The hollandaise is a classic made from egg yolks and warm butter—it’s just made easier with the help of a blender, says Twin Cities chef and cookbook author Robin Asbell, who created these recipes for Real Food. The herby, garlicky chimichurri has a little spice and a tangy vinegar kick. Enjoy a creamy puree of roasted peppers and nuts in the romesco, which is a Spanish sauce that makes everything it touches better.

ASPARAGUS TIPS

Asparagus is incredibly easy to work with, requiring very little time to prepare or cook, says Asbell. Here she offers tips to keep in mind.

Spear Size: You will see fat spears about the size of a Sharpie marker and you’ll come across spears as thin as a pencil. Despite some old myths, neither thin nor thick is superior in flavor. Generally, as expected, the thinner ones need a little less cooking time.

If you are looking for asparagus to serve as finger food with a sauce, look for fatter spears. If you like, you can peel the fat spears, starting an inch from the pointed tip and going down to the tough bottom. It’s optional but it looks nice and allows you to serve a bit more of the stems.

Asparagus Has Zones: The tips should always be treated differently than the stems. Trim off the bottom couple of inches, which are tough, and then lop off the tips in the desired lengths. The stems are full of flavor and just take a minute longer to cook than the tender tips. In most cases, you’ll save the tips to add at the end of a recipe to show them off.

Don’t Overcook: Unless you plan to puree it, don’t overcook asparagus. Mushy and limp are not the words you want to come to mind when you serve a simple side of asparagus with butter, so roast, steam or blanch it just enough to get to crisp-tender.

Blanched Asparagus and Three Dipping Sauces

Makes 6 servings

Make your sauces before blanching the asparagus since that only takes a few minutes. Hollandaise is best eaten the same day, while the other two can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 3 days. If preferred, you can simply pile the asparagus on platters and drizzle with sauces.

To blanch 2 pounds of asparagus, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Set up two large bowls of ice water. Trim the tough bottoms from the asparagus, and if desired, peel the stems starting 1 inch below the tips. Drop the asparagus into boiling water for 1 minute, then take out with tongs and drop in the ice water to stop the cooking. When completely cold, transfer to a colander, then pat dry before serving.

Each dip is enough for one 2-pound bunch of asparagus. If you want to serve multiple dips, adjust amount of asparagus accordingly.

Hollandaise

Makes about 1 cup

6 large pasteurized egg yolks, room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh dill
¼ teaspoon salt
2 dashes hot sauce
½ (1 stick) butter, melted

Place egg yolks, lemon juice, dill, salt and hot sauce into the blender and secure the lid. Turn the machine on at low speed, and then increase to high. Blend for about 30 seconds. Remove the plug from the lid of the blender and slowly drizzle the melted butter through the opening. The sauce should thicken and look like mayonnaise. Blend for a few more seconds. Scrape the warm sauce into a medium bowl or individual bowls for dipping.

Chimichurri

Makes about ¾ cup

1 medium shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the shallot, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, cilantro, parsley and oregano in a medium bowl. Stir in the red wine vinegar and olive oil and let stand for about 15 minutes. Stir well before serving.

Cook’s Note: If desired, you can also make this in a food processor. Place the shallot, chopped garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, cilantro, parsley and oregano in a food processor bowl and pulse until minced. Then add the oil and vinegar and pulse to mix—but don’t puree.

Romesco

Makes about 1¾ cups

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cubed Italian bread (about 1 slice)
½ cup slivered almonds
3 medium roasted red peppers
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sherry vinegar

  1. Pour the olive oil in a medium skillet and place it over medium heat. When hot, add the bread cubes and turn every few minutes as the bread turns golden, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bread cubes to a blender container.
  2. Add the almonds to the hot oil and stir until they turn golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer the almonds to the blender container and let the oil cool in the pan before pouring into the blender container. Add the roasted peppers, garlic, paprika, red pepper flakes, salt and sherry vinegar, secure the lid, and hold it closed with a folded kitchen towel as you blend until smooth.

Nutrition info (per serving):
• Asparagus with Hollandaise: Calories 206 (176 From Fat); Fat 20g (Sat. 11g); Chol 221mg; Sodium 232mg; Carb 4g; Fiber 2g; Protein 5g
• Asparagus with Chimichurri: Calories 107 (81 From Fat); Fat 9g (Sat. 1g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 401mg; Carb 5g; Fiber 2g; Protein 2g
• Asparagus with Romesco: Calories 144 (94 From Fat); Fat 11g (Sat. 1g); Chol 0mg; Sodium 199mg; Carb 10g; Fiber 4g; Protein 5g

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.