Jersey fresh asparagus is now in season

It’s one of my favorite times of the year. The beginning of fresh local vegetables.

Asparagus can now be found at the local farm stands and farmers markets in the area.

If you’re new to asparagus, it grows as a stalk, right from the ground, cut and bundled according to width of the stalks. From my experience selling vegetables at area farmers markets, I know that people are very particular about the size of their asparagus. Some people swear by pencil thin asparagus as being the most tender. Some swear that the thicker the better. Either way, asparagus is great.

Cleaning the asparagus is important if you don’t want to add some local dirt to your diet. But it’s quite easy. To remove the dirt, rinse them off to get any dirt off the bottom stem. Then fill a bowl with cold water, soak the asparagus for a few minutes, then rinse it off.

Snap off the woody ends so it breaks naturally at the soft point. Some people even peel the stalks, saying it makes them soft.

Now for the cooking. You can blanche it, bake it, or roast it. Here are a few recipes that I give out at farmers markets to those needing a new recipe.

LEMON ROASTED ASPARAGUS

1 lb. asparagus washed and trimmed

3 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves slightly smashed

zest from 1 lemon about 1 tbsp

salt and pepper to taste

juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 425.

To trim asparagus, hold each end between your fingertips. Bend the asparagus, and it should brake about 1-2 inches from the bottom. Repeat with entire pound.

Place asparagus and garlic on a sheet pan.

Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on lemon zest, salt, and pepper.

Toss to coat evenly.

Keep asparagus in a single layer on sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, until the ends are crisp, and the asparagus is slightly tender.

Toss with lemon juice.

PROSCUITTO WRAPPED ASPARAGUS

12 asparagus spears

6 prosciutto slices/strips (or turkey bacon)

A little olive oil or ghee for frying

Wash asparagus and cut 2 inches off the ends. Cut prosciutto (or turkey bacon) strips into two halves, going lengthways. You should end up with 12 strips.

Place each prosciutto (or turkey bacon) strip on a chopping board at a 45 degree angle. Place one of the asparagus spears on top of the meat, perpendicular to it. The tip of the asparagus should be lined up with the bottom of the prosciutto strip. Wrap the bottom end of prosciutto over the asparagus and hold the meat tight, start rolling the asparagus up. The prosciutto (or turkey bacon) strip will wrap around the whole length of the spear because it’s on an angle. Don’t worry if parts of the asparagus spears are not covered completely.

Heat some olive oil in a large, flat frying pan to sizzling hot. Fry wrapped asparagus spears for 1-2 minutes on each side or until prosciutto (or turkey bacon) is brown and crispy.

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ASPARAGUS CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

Yes, cupcakes. You don’t taste the asparagus. It just adds moisture similar to zucchini.

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour

2 c sugar

3/4 c good (unsweetened) cocoa powder

1 c grated fresh asparagus (rinse before grating)

1c chocolate chips

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1 c buttermilk, shaken

1/2 c vegetable oil

2 extra large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 c freshly brewed hot coffee

Top with Chocolate Fudge Buttercream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill cupcake pan with liners. Sift the 1 ½ cups of the flour with sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined.

In a separate bowl mix the remainder of flour into chocolate chips and reserve.

In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the asparagus and reserved chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for 15-17 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Makes 24.

For an easy chocolate frosting, whip one can of chocolate frosting and one 8 oz. bar of cream cheese.

The Blue Plate in Mullica Hill, Chef Jim Malaby

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