Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring is here! Asparagus with citrus-mayo sauce

It's official. I saw the first harbinger of spring.

No, no that bird that everyone talks about.

For me, the first harbinger of spring is when I go to the grocery store and I see that asparagus has gone from being expensive and imported to being (sort of) local and and reasonably priced.

It's still a long way from asparagus season right here in town, but it's spring - and asparagus season - somewhere nearby.

Pretty soon spring will sproing in my neighborhood and the farmer's market will open and I'll go nuts over the first lettuces. Meanwhile, though, I have my asparagus.

One of my favorite ways of cooking asparagus is in the microwave. After I've trimmed the ends, I put the asparagus in a shallow microwaveable bowl and add just a little bit of water. I want it to steam, not boil. Then I cover the bowl with plastic wrap, but I leave the tips of the asparagus uncovered. I zap it until it's cooked through but still vibrant green and a little crisp, but not crunchy-raw.

Did you know that asparagus is the only vegetable that Emily Post said was polite to eat with your fingers? Does anyone care what Emily Post says any more? I've been known to pick up asparagus with my fingers. For me, it's like vegetable snack food. I can munch on it warm, cold, or at room temperature.

I like it as a side dish, in a salad, as an appetizer, or as part of a main dish. Oh yeah, there's asparagus soup, too. This time of year, I pick up asparagus just about every time I go to the store. When the local stuff is available, I'll be buying that, too.

This dish doesn't fit firmly into any category. Is it a side dish? Sure. Appetizer? Okay. Salad? Yes, it is. Snack? Yes, it can be that too.

And the sauce could be a sauce or a dip.

This can be anything you want it to be. Serve the dip as a dip, or dollop it on top of the asparagus when you serve it. I got all artsy with my presentation and added some chopped hard-boiled egg to it as well. And eggs symbolize spring, too, don't they?

I dunno. It looks sort of like wheat stalks maybe. Or from another angle, it looks like a spring onion. See, spring is ALL around.

The spice mix I used in this dish came from Savory Spice, and it's called the California Citrus Rub. Next month my blogging buddies and I over at Virtual Potluck will be doing some recipes for Savory Spice Shop, and along with the spices we'll actually be using, Savory sent us some extras. I got a gift box called "Seafood Lovers."

Being the contrarian I am, I immediately started thinking about what non-seafood dishes I would use the mixes for, and as soon as I sniffed the citrus rub, I knew it would be great with something creamy. The ingredients in the mix are black pepper, lemon peel, orange peel, granulated garlic, white sugar, crushed red pepper, citric acid, and parsley. Yeah, that would be great on seafood, but it was screaming to be paired with vegetables.

Oh, look, there's some asparagus! Perfect for my creamy dip!

Dippy Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon California Citrus Rub
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped

Cook the asparagus to your liking (everyone's got their favorite doneness - I'm not going to judge!) If you'll be serving it warm, cook it right before you need it.

If you're serving it chilled, shock it in ice water as soon as it's done cooking, then refrigerate it until just before you serve. (Hint: if you're making this for company, cook it the night before.)

Usually when I cook asparagus, I serve it warm the first day, then refrigerate it and serve it chilled the next day. The color isn't quite as pretty as if it's shocked right after cooking, but when it's just for me I don't worry about it that much.

For the dip, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, and citrus rub. Since there are some chunky bits in this rub, it needs some time to hydrate. If you want to make this the day before, that's perfect. Otherwise, let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. It's not awful right after it's first mixed, but it's MUCH better after an hour or so.

To serve, arrange the asparagus on a place, dollop with the dip, and garnish with the chopped egg. If you prefer, you can serve the sauce on the side.