Hadley, Massachusetts is one town over from us. This is an especially important fact to remember come May because Hadley is the asparagus capital of the world. The world! I know.
It's also where our very good friends live (our friends who are Ben's friend Ava's parents, if you're a long-time reader here). Not surprisingly, given the whole world-capital situation, our friends live across the street from a ginormous asparagus farm. An asparagus farm the owners of which have told them to go ahead and help themselves! Whenever! (They also live across the street from a tobacco farm, but don't worry--I won't be posting any recipes.)
"It's hard not to be greedy!" our friend Nicole said, after walking the kids across the street to pick with her. And then she pulled a gigantic asparagus-stuffed bag out of her backpack. And then another. "Very hard, it looks like," her husband said, and we laughed. But oh they are good.
Don't believe the hype about the skinny ones. Pencil-thin this and that is everyone's favorite, but not mine. I like the big, fat asparagus, which are the sweetest I think. Also, fatness is not a sign of age: while asparagus do get longer as they get older, they poke out of the ground as thin or fat as they are ever going to be. When I was visiting my brother's family a few weeks ago, my sister-in-law ended up having to explain the word "phallic" to my nephew, who had overheard us in the garden laughing our heads off over a particularly well-endowed specimen in the asparagus patch. Oops.
So, now that I seem to have managed to mention both tobacco and x-rated vegetables, it's time to talk about cooking the asparagus before I say something gross about the way it makes your pee smell. I love asparagus roasted in the oven: I toss it with olive oil and salt on a foil-lined baking sheet, then roast them at 450 until they're browning and tender. But when they're super-fresh like this, I find a brief boil the best way to emphasize their mellow sweetness. Plus, this is the way the kids are most likely to eat them. You know what I said last week about salmon? That's how the kids are about asparagus too. Sometimes they love them and sometimes not. Right now they love them. Maybe later in the week I'll post my hollandaise recipe, which is a great way to get kids involved with any vegetable that has them shuddering. But for now, we're going to make this lovely salmon-colored dip that is zingily delicious and insanely easy and also uses some of those chipotles I made you buy for the dinner beans and the tamale pie. (See? Aren't they coming in handy?) This dip is also great with other veggies--raw carrots and blanched broccoli, for example--as well as on sandwiches and in chicken salad. My kids love it, but if it's too spicy for yours, you can always cut back on the chipotles, or substitute some smoked paprika, which is smoky but not hot.
As with all vegetable matter, put this out before dinner when your kids are milling around starvingly. They'll eat it.
Asparagus with Delicious Dip
If you want to serve the asparagus hot, simply omit the dip and the cold-water rinse, then add butter, salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
1 or 2 bunches of very fresh asparagus (the bottoms should look moist and freshly cut)
1/2 cup Hellman's or Best Foods mayonnaise (not reduced-fat)
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 small clove of garlic: cut it open, pull out the green shoot, and then finely chop it or put it through a garlic press
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree (see photo at right and instructions here)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
Wash the asparagus in a large sinkful of cold water while you bring an inch of water to a boil over high heat in a very wide pan. Now snap the bottom off of each asparagus spear: there will be a place where it naturally wants to break, a couple inches up from the very bottom, and you will feel this if you bend it a bit. Add the asparagus to the boiling water, spreading them out in the pan as best as you can, and cover. Check for doneness starting at 2 minutes: stick the tip of a paring knife into one and see if it feels tender. If not, boil another minute or two, moving them around in the pan with tongs so that they all get a fair shot at submersion. Drain them and run cold water over them until they're cool, then spread them out on a clean dishtowel to dry. Meanwhile you've whisked together the mayo, lemon juice, garlic, chipotle, and salt. Use a cooked asparagus to taste the dip, and re-season it if it needs more salt, chipotle, or lemon juice.