Bless Your Spoon: Tomatoes and asparagus will soon be ready
Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2023
By Stephanie Williams Dean
If you want to enjoy a summer favorite, the old-fashioned, classic Southern, ‘mater and mayo sandwich, it’s time to plant a garden.
I know folks believe they don’t have space or time to grow their own foods. But the truth is, with a few rays of sunshine, a hose pipe with water, and a few pots — voila — you’ll be a master gardener in no time! If the thought overwhelms you, think small and take baby steps. You don’t need to live on a farm or spend lots of money or time. So, find a little space or container and let’s get growing!
You might want to choose container gardening for its ease and convenience. First, you’ll need to find a sunny spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. Some leafy greens can take a little shade so check the backs of seed packs and tags on transplants for growing info. The next step would be to decide what vegetables or fruits you like to eat and plan to grow those. Now you’re ready for action.
But first, I want to suggest some info-packed resources for you: the N.C. State Extension provides everything you need to know about container gardening — what type and size of containers, optimal soil and added nutrients and watering schedule. Be sure to save these websites and refer to them often. Before you plant, follow the directions on the seed pack or plant tag. As far as what to eat and when, I find the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture’s “What’s in Season” chart to be very helpful. Before long, you’ll be enjoying the freshest, best-tasting produce based on what’s in season.
The March 2023 issue of Carolina Living suggested two tomato standouts for containers — the cherry-type tomato, Terenzo, and a copious producer, Lizzano. The N.C. State website has a link you can click on that will take you to a chart with other listed plants that are good for containers.
Easy peasy, right? In no time at all, you’ll be picking tomatoes for sandwiches, right at your back door. And when ready to assemble those sammies, choose a delicious, grainy artisan bread. Use nothing less than a premium mayo like Duke’s with a sprinkle of salt added. In addition — in memory of Daddy — I always add a thin spread of Skippy’s peanut butter just like he did. Try it, it’s delicious!
Well, I’ve been sharing all about a future love relationship with fresh tomatoes — some 63 days from now. And that’s because I’m super jealous of a few friends who are living in the moment, already engaged with tiny asparagus tips that have pushed up through the soil. The master gardeners sowed their seeds early. These vegetable spears are one of the first edibles that spring forth from the dirt — a favorite, versatile, green goodie. The good news is, when eaten plain, the veggie is packed with nutrients and vitamins but low in calories. But so many of us grew up on recipes that called for canned asparagus and I love it, as well. Those slimy spears make some of the best casseroles we’ve ever put in our mouths.
While vegetable growth might be seasonal, Biblical scripture is applicable to every season of our lives. The fact that man was first placed in a garden — a place of growth and renewal — is no coincidence.
In Isaiah 61:11, the prophet delivers a message of comfort, saying, “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” In the first chapters of the book of Isaiah, the prophet has called for people to repent of their sins — to return to God and be renewed. In the final chapters, Isaiah delivers messages of forgiveness and hope. He informs people of God’s promises and future blessings. Isaiah compares the blessing of God’s renewal to that of a sprout springing forth from the soil.
On Sunday, we sang an old gospel hymn in church — a lovely spiritual titled, “It’s Your Season to be Blessed.” God is the only true Master Gardener. God created every season and He works every bed of soil for growth, renewal and reward. It is He who loves justice and brings equity to His people. It is He who will reward those who suffer. God promises to bless and redeem — and not just for one season.
In every season, He keeps His promises.
Asparagus, Onion and Orange Salad
• 24 trimmed fresh asparagus spears
• 4 peeled, sectioned oranges
• 12 cups baby salad greens
• 1 Tbsp. chopped, fresh basil
• 1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon
• ½ cup thinly sliced red onion rings
• 2/3 cup premium mayonnaise
• ½ cup buttermilk
• 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
• 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
• 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
For salad, cook asparagus in large pot of boiling water for 2 minutes or until tender-crisp. Remove to a bowl of ice water and allow to cool. Drain and set aside. Remove white pith and membrane of peeled oranges and remove sections. On a serving platter, arrange asparagus spears in sunburst pattern. Place orange sections between spears. Mount greens in center and sprinkle with herbs. Evenly top with red onion slices. Drizzle dressing over salad. For dressing, in a bowl, whisk mayonnaise, buttermilk, olive oil, vinegar and herbs until well blended. Chill.
• 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 6 Tbsp. softened salted butter
• 2 Tbsp. Crisco shortening
• ¼ tsp. salt
• 3 tbsp. ice water
• 2 pounds 3-inch cut, fresh asparagus
• ¾ cup heavy cream
• ½ cup whole milk
• ½ stick salted butter
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 1 cup Grated Gruyere cheese
• Salt, white pepper, nutmeg, to taste
For the pastry, in a mixer bowl, blend flour, butter, shortening and salt. Add water, and mix until ball forms. Chill 1 hour. Roll pastry 1/8 -inch thick, and arrange in a 9-inch tart pan. Chill 1 hour. Prick shell, cover with wax paper, and weigh down with uncooked rice. Prebake 10 minutes, remove rice, and bake additional 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. For filling, steam asparagus in salted water for 8 minutes. Drain and dry on paper towels. In a saucepan, scald cream and milk together. In another saucepan, melt butter and stir in flour and cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir cream mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Stir in ½ the cheese and seasonings. Place asparagus pieces in the bottom of tart. Pour sauce over and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 12-15 minutes in a preheated 400-degree oven. Cover to prevent burning if necessary.
Baked Asparagus Party Dip
• 30 ounces canned asparagus cut spears
• 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
• 1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
• 2 crushed garlic cloves
• Salt and pepper, to taste
Drain and mash asparagus spears. Combine mashed asparagus with mayonnaise, grated cheese, garlic, and salt and pepper, to taste. Bake in a round baking dish in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until bubbling and slightly browned. Serve with corn chips or crackers.
• 1 pound trimmed asparagus
• 2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter
• ½ pound sliced mushrooms
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 sliced hard-boiled eggs
• 2 slices toasted artisan bread crumbs
• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Steam asparagus until barely cooked and crisp. In a skillet, sauté mushrooms in melted butter and set aside. In a butter-greased casserole dish, layer asparagus, salt and pepper, eggs, mushrooms with liquid and bread crumbs. Evenly sprinkle cheese over top. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour.
Whole Asparagus and Sesame Drizzle
• 2 pounds thin, trimmed fresh asparagus
• 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 ½ Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 4 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
• 1 tsp. minced garlic
• ½ tsp. each, salt and white pepper
Cook fresh asparagus 2-3 minutes until crisp-tender. Refresh in cold water and then drain and dry with paper towels. In a jar, shake mustard, lemon juice, dark sesame oil, garlic, salt and white pepper until blended. Place asparagus on platter and evenly drizzle mixture over asparagus. Serve additional dressing in bowl.
Bow Ties, Asparagus and Prosciutto
• 16 ounces bow tie pasta
• 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
• 1 pound 1-inch cut, trimmed, fresh asparagus
• 3 Tbsp. water
• ½ cup shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
• 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
Cook pasta according to package directions. In saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer while uncovered for 7 minutes or until thickened. Set aside. In a microwave dish, place asparagus and water. Cover and microwave on high for 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl. Add cream, asparagus, Parmesan cheese and prosciutto. Toss until well coated.
Asparagus Party Salad
• 4 pounds fresh asparagus spears
• 1 cup olive oil
• ½ cup tarragon vinegar
• 3 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
• 2 ounces drained, chopped pimientos
• 1 ½ Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
• 1 tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• Peeled, sliced tomatoes, garnish
• 1 grated hard-boiled egg
Cook asparagus while covered in boiling water for 8 minutes. Dip in ice water to stop cooking and set color. In a jar, combine olive oil, vinegar, relish, pimientos, chives, salt and pepper. and shake to mix. Arrange asparagus in shallow serving dish. Pour marinade over spears, cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve, arrange slices of tomato around spears. Grate an egg over the top.
Asparagus with Egg Sauce
• 2 bunches large asparagus
• ½ cup salted butter
• ¼ cup artisan bread crumbs
• 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs
• 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Pimiento, garnish
Cut each asparagus crosswise into 3 pieces at an angle. Cook 5 minutes in pot of boiling salted water. Lift out and place on serving platter. For the sauce, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add bread crumbs and cook until browned. Remove from heat and stir in eggs and parsley. Salt, and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over asparagus, and garnish with pimiento.
Tortellini with Asparagus and Pesto
• 1 pound 2-inch cut, fresh asparagus
• 18 ounces refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini
• 7 ounces basil pesto
• ½ tsp. grated lemon rind
• ¼ tsp. salt
• ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Trim tough ends off asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces. Prepare tortellini according to package directions. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add asparagus. Drain all. Discard any excess oil from pesto container. Toss pesto with tortellini and asparagus. Add lemon rind and salt. Sprinkle with toasted nuts and serve.
Sesame Mayo Sauce for Asparagus
• 3 cloves minced garlic
• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
• ½ cup soy sauce
• 21/2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 3 Tbsp. light brown sugar
• 1 large egg yolk
• 1 whole egg
• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
• 1 1/3 cups Wesson vegetable oil
• ¼ cup Oriental sesame oil
• 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
For the mayonnaise, in a saucepan, combine garlic ginger, soy, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced by half. Set aside. In a food processor, place egg yolk, whole egg, lemon juice, and mustard and process 15 seconds. Add both oils while processing until thickened. Then add enough of soy mixture and process until blended and of desired thickness. You can toss some of mixture with asparagus pieces to put on top of salad greens or use as a dip for fresh spears of asparagus. Before serving, sprinkle with toasted seeds.
Asparagus Pieces and Sesame Toss
• 1 pound trimmed, fresh asparagus
• ½ tsp. Wesson vegetable oil
• ½ cup finely diced red bell pepper
• 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
• ½ tsp. sesame oil
• 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or tender-crisp. Rinse in cold water and drain well. Cut spears at an angle into thirds. In a skillet, heat olive oil. Add bell pepper and cook 1 minute. Stir in asparagus, and cook 2 minutes or until heated. Add soy and sesame oil and toss with vegetables. Remove to serving platter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.