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April and Asparagus Go Together in Our Valley

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I can’t believe that we are already heading into the fourth month of the year. Around here you will be able to buy asparagus at a reasonable price; because of that I have several recipes that will tempt you into trying or loving this great vegetable.

It’s a strange little vegetable that is dormant all winter, then sprouts for harvest in early spring. It takes about three years to get it started, but it will continue to produce up to 30 years. If you have the space it is a wonderful vegetable to raise. They come as a male or a female plant. If you have a choice, choose the male; they will produce more spears at harvest. You can plant them in your normal vegetable bed, planting them deep, about 12 inches down by seed or you can purchase asparagus crowns, which are the root system of the asparagus and are usually two years old. They are grown just to harvest for selling purposes, which will give you a head start on your crop. When the seeds come up the first two years, do not harvest. Let them go to seed; you will know that has been accomplished when they sprout what looks like a fern. If you are using crowns, you can pass up the two-year wait. However, it’s recommended that you wait one year before harvesting. This will create a healthy and happy crown to give you some beautiful stocks for harvest for the next 30 years. Plant asparagus seedlings or crowns near tomatoes. Asparagus repels nematodes that attack tomatoes and tomatoes repel asparagus beetles. If you are going to grow asparagus in beds with your other plants, plant them on the north or west side of the box. This will keep them from shading your other plants. It seems to be a lot of work but in the long run it’s well worth the effort.

Over the years, our stores here in the Valley have always carried lots of asparagus. For many years, the San Joaquin Valley has had an annual Asparagus Festival to showcase the abundance of this unique vegetable. This has since stopped, as the farmers have also stopped growing this crop in our valley. Now most of our asparagus comes in trade from Mexico. That’s why you’re seeing asparagus popping up in backyard gardens all over the area.

Here’s a recipe that could be served hot or cold with just a few variations. I’ll call it a two-for-one recipe for your recipe box. I love using cheese tortellini for this recipe but you could substitute ravioli for the tortellini. Fresh crisp asparagus with fresh herbs mixed up together makes my mouth water just talking about it.
Both dishes start with the same six ingredients. Then the fun begins. I have given two lists of different ingredients, so you can choose to finish the dish off as a hot dish or complete the other cold dish topped with a dressing.

Tortellini Asparagus Garlic (Cold Dish)

Cook the tortellini in boiling water according to the package instructions. Add the asparagus to the tortellini for the last 1 minute to blanch. You want the asparagus crisp but not mushy. In a large bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, honey and minced garlic. Once combined, slowly add the olive oil, whisking the dressing to combine. Here’s my secret: I put the vinegar, garlic, honey and olive oil in a Mason jar. Screw the lid down tight and shake until combined. Then add the tomatoes, onion, mozzarella balls, basil and parsley to the dressing and toss. Drain the water from the tortellini and asparagus using a colander; rinse with cold water or ice bath to stop the cooking process. Once drained, add to the bowl with the dressing and toss. Taste for salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to chill and serve.

Tortellini Asparagus Garlic (Hot Dish)

Cook the tortellini in boiling water according to the package instructions. Add the asparagus to the tortellini for the last 1 minute to blanch. You want the asparagus hot but not mushy. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and melt the butter. Then add the garlic, stirring until just soft. Then add the tomatoes and cook for about 1 more minute. Toss in the balsamic vinegar, stir. Drain the water from the tortellini and asparagus. Add to the skillet, toss and taste for salt and pepper. Add Parmesan cheese and serve warm. Top the dish with coated walnuts as desired.

There you have it! These two recipes have been family favorites for a long time and will continue to keep pleasing. I hope you take the time to create these wonderful dishes for your family. Wishing you and your family a very happy spring.