Chef Tom's food column appears on page 13 of the Ace print edition.
BY TOM YATES
Spring Asparagus: Three Ways
The opening of the Lexington Farmers' Market is one of the most joyous signs that spring has sprung in Central Kentucky.
It allows us to shed memories of the long drab winter months with a subtle stamp of approval.
We couldn't wait to soak it in last weekend. Early Saturday morning, I grabbed my canvas tote bags while Michael gathered our empty Chaneys milk glass bottles. In a flash, we were off to the market.
Although we arrived very early, the market was bustling. Perky culinary students, adorned in their university-issued togs, scurried through the market with amused abandon. Youthful innocence. With most of the vendors tucked underneath the bolted glass ceiling of the open air pavillion, space was tight. With shoulder-to-shoulder shoppers crowding the various farmstands, we felt like happy human bumper cars. The energy was fantastic.
Along with the usual early season shipped-in suspects, a surprizingly large variety of early local produce lined the tabletops and spilled from baskets. I had absolutely no reason to want or buy purple mustard greens. They were gorgeous. Why not? Sold.
Chanterelle mushrooms. Herbs. Baby lettuces. Radishes. Green garlic bunches. Green onions. Tomato plants. Cheeses. Breads. Flowers. Salsas. Dips. It was dizzying.
Then, with my giddiness trumping sound reasoning, I bagged 2 pounds of fresh Bourbon County spring asparagus. Really? What was I thinking? That's a hell of a lot of asparagus for two people.
Round 1: After tossing 1/2 pound of trimmed tender asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper, I roasted them in a 400 degree oven for 18 minutes. When they caramelized, I nestled them around jasmine rice alongside baked cornish game hens smothered in pureed lemon-infused roasted garlic.
Round 2: To awaken a sleepy long-braised horseradish-spiked pot roast, I shaved a few of the larger asparagus spears into delicate ribbons before tossing them with meyer lemon juice, olive oil, spring radish zest, radishes, curled green onions, salt, and pepper. Crisp. Fresh. Raw. Perfect.
Round 3: I banished the heavy-handedness of the previous two nights and threw together a simple pureed asparagus soup. Although most methods for preparing asparagus soup include potatoes and leeks, I didn't want to muck up and muddle the true flavor of the asparagus. I kept it simple and straightforward. After sweating 1/2 cup minced shallots and 1 clove smashed garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, I seasoned them with salt and pepper before deglazing the soup pot with white wine. When the wine reduced to nothing, I added 4 cups chicken stock. I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, tumbled in a pound of sliced spring asparagus, and let it rip for 15 minutes.
I pulled the cooked asparagus from the heat and carefully pureed it in batches (with the stock) until it was velvety smooth. After dishing up the soup, I topped it with crisped prosciutto cracklings, creme fraiche, and lemony fresh thyme.
I shamelessly licked the bowl clean, leaving my lips and cheeks dripping with the pure essence of fresh spring asparagus.