Spring has Sprung
by Chef Tom Yates
Opening day of The Lexington Farmers’ Market is one of the 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. Early Saturday morning, I grabbed my canvas tote bags and empty Chaneys milk glass bottles, and in a flash, was off to the market.
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 pavilion, space was socially distant, but a little tight.
Along with the usual early season shipped-in suspects, a surprisingly 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.
Bundles of fresh asparagus caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to find them on opening day. With my giddiness trumping sound reasoning, I bagged two pounds of fresh Bourbon County spring asparagus. Really? What was I thinking? That’s a lot of asparagus for two people.
But it can be done.
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 for the pure essence of fresh spring asparagus.
This article also appears on page 16 of the May 2021 print edition of ace magazine.
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