Asparagus Heralds Spring

Bundled Asparagus

Preserve fresh asparagus with Clotilde's confit. (See recipe below) hide caption

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Asparagus Confit with Almonds and Rosemary

Asparagus Confit with Almonds and Rosemary. Clotilde Dusoulier hide caption

itoggle caption Clotilde Dusoulier

More Cooking with Clotilde

Nothing edible sings spring to my ear like asparagus does, and they are now gaily blooming here in Paris — on restaurant menus and produce stalls, that is.

Clotilde Dusoulier is the 25-year-old Parisienne behind the popular food blog Chocolate & Zucchini, where she writes about all things edible. She is now working on a cookbook.

Three main varieties are on offer. The thick white ones (asperges blanches), especially favored in the north of France, are grown entirely underground and never see the light of day, hence their pallor. Asperges violettes are similar to the white ones, only they grow an inch or two out of the earth and their tips start to take on a pinkish-purple color. My favorite are the slender asperges vertes, with their pointy little heads: these grow entirely above ground, drinking up sunlight and producing enough chlorophyll to put on a glorious green sheath with purple hues.

More difficult to find are the asperges sauvages, very thin green asparagus that grow in the wild and resist cultivation. They are sold mainly in the markets of Provence and Corsica, but little bundles of them can be chanced upon in Parisian produce stores. Only their tips are edible, but their taste is very delicate and they look quite striking in a salad.

Chocolate & Zucchini

Healthy asparagus, I'm told, should stand upright and proud and not curl to the side — it's a sign of dehydration and one should turn one's nose up at asparagus that lists. If the listing variety does land in your kitchen, trim the stalks and put the asparagus in a small vase of cold water. This should revive them — and what prettier bouquet to decorate your table?

I have developed a curious interest in vegetable jams lately — onion confit and carrot jam and tomato marmalade — and asparagus struck me as the perfect candidate for such preparations. This led me to create a recipe for Confit d’Asperge aux Amandes et au Romarin, using fresh asparagus from the market and rosemary plucked from my aunt's garden in Provence, where I spent Easter weekend.

This surprisingly versatile condiment is subtly sweet, the brown sugar only serving to enhance the natural sweetness of the asparagus and shallots. The rosemary and balsamic vinegar lend it aromatic depth, while the almonds bring in their toasted crunch. In a pretty jar, possibly adorned with a little ribbon, it will make the perfect spring food gift.

This confit works beautifully as an accompaniment to roasted chicken or atop a fish fillet before cooking it en papillote — wrapped in foil or parchment paper and baked. I also like to serve it as part of the cheese platter we serve after the main course and before dessert in France. The jam works with fresh goat or sheep milk's cheese or with a sharper, firm cheese (such as manchego or Cantal), or with a softer cheese like Brie. Quality cheese, fresh bread and this jam served from a jar with a spoon, and your guests are bound to be happy!

Confit d’Asperge aux Amandes et au Romarin
(Asparagus Confit with Almonds and Rosemary)

- 1/3 cup blanched, whole almonds

- 3 small shallots

- 2 tsp olive oil

- 1 ½ lbs fresh green asparagus

- 2 tsp fresh rosemary

- 1/3 cup brown sugar

- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

- water

Yield: approx. 3 cups

Put a dry skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the almonds and toast for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing from time to time, until the almonds are golden and fragrant. Set aside.

Peel and thinly slice the shallots. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and one tablespoon water. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the shallots are soft and translucent.

Rinse and trim the asparagus stalks, and cut in half-inch chunks. Add the asparagus, as well as the rosemary, brown sugar, vinegar and 1/3 cup water to the saucepan. Stir to combine, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the asparagus is softened. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pan at this point (and this depends on the water content of the asparagus you used), cook for another 5 minutes, uncovered, until most of the cooking juices have evaporated. Try a spoonful and add more vinegar or sugar to suit your taste.

Remove from heat, stir in the almonds, and pour into scrupulously cleaned jars. Close tightly, let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator. The confit tastes best if you let it rest overnight to let the flavors develop. Use within a week, or freeze in freezer-safe containers.

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