Waiting for asparagus.
This springtime metaphor, (coined by Barbara Kingsolver in her locavoristic memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), holds particular charm here in Jackson Hole, where waiting for spring, and then summer, is just what we do. We are patient.
If anyone understands what it's like to wait for asparagus, it's Zaidee Fuller, who grows an impressive patch of the iconic springtime vegetable in her high altitude garden just outside of Wilson.
Zaidee in her asparagus patch.
I visited Zaidee at her extraordinary home up Mosquito Creek, with the most beautiful high-altitude gardens I have ever seen. While my vegetable garden is growing slowly, grudgingly, and without fanfare, hers is lush, tall, and green.
These asparagus have one of the best views in Jackson Hole.
Zaidee covers raised beds of greens with plastic for a nifty greenhouse effect.
Who would have thought that luscious, tall, crispy asparagus would grow so well in Jackson Hole? Zaidee has been patiently working her land for the last 30 years, despite the summers that never came, the droughts, and the several hundred neighboring gophers who terrorize the garden. A garden like hers takes patience of the utmost quality, especially when it comes to asparagus.
Asparagus farming is not for those into instant gratification. Zaidee's asparagus garden is only into its fifth year, young by most standards. It can take three years just to see the first crown that bears the tender spears of spring. The funny part, as Zaidee explained to me, is that asparagus is incredibly easy to grow here. She started by throwing some seeds in the ground, and was pleasantly surprised to see asparagus the following year. Some varieties do better than others (Zaidee favors Mary Washingtons).
Growing asparagus takes patience and optimism, qualities I find in the best high altitude gardeners around here. Waiting can seem to take forever, but just like summer, it's worth the wait. Once an asparagus plant is mature, it can send up a 7-inch shoot in a single day.
Asparagus are popping up all over at Zaidee's place.
If the asparagus crop is especially good this year, you may find some of Zaidee's for sale locally. Zaidee graciously gave me a handful of just-snapped asparagus, and I ran straight home to make it for lunch. Never have I had asparagus this fresh, this crispy, this grassy and sweet.
Like Zaidee, I usually prefer asparagus browned in a hot nonstick skillet, with just a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Maybe it was the chilliness of the morning, or the sky threatening to rain (again)...only asparagus with pasta would do.
I threw the spears into the pasta water a few minutes shy of al dente, drained it all into a colander, then tossed with freshly grated Parmesan, a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt. Nearly instant asparagus heaven.
For supper, I put a bit more effort into preparing the rest of the bunch. Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Sauce is easy to make, but does require chopping up a few bunches of scallions. Scallions, grated ginger, grapeseed oil, soy sauce, sherry vinegar and kosher salt are stirred up in a bowl, and let to sit for a spell while their flavors mingle. Then the beautiful spears of asparagus are browned in a nonstick skillet, and tossed briefly with the sauce.
The crispy spears, the ginger, the scallions.....this recipe is a winner. Chef David Chang of Momofuku calls ginger scallion sauce "one of the greatest sauces or condiments ever. Ever." He tosses a few tablespoons of the "mother sauce" with hot rice noodles or lo mein, or serves it over a bowl of rice topped with a fried egg. Ginger scallion sauce goes well with a grilled steak, or any kind of seafood. Think of the impromptu noodles bowls you can make!
Zaidee raises chickens too, both for eggs and for harvest.
Getting back to asparagus...I have one more favorite preparation. Pat the asparagus nice and dry, and then wrap the stalk with a thin slice of prosciutto. Place the spears on a tray and refrigerate while you get the grill ready (this will help the prosciutto adhere to the stalk). Grill over medium heat until the prosciutto is a bit crispy. Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus make great finger food, and they may never make it to the table if you don't hide them.
The WRONG way to wrap an asparagus...you don't want it too loose.
That's better. Lay the prosciutto flat first, then roll at an angle starting at the base. Let the tip stick out.
The best way to store asparagus is upright in the fridge, ends submerged in a few inches of water. It will keep for up to 3 days.
- To store, place asparagus upright in a glass of water, ends submerged by a few inches. Cover with a plastic bag, and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To buy, choose spears that are firm, straight, and smooth.
- Thick or thin? Thick spears are usually more tender than thin ones. Fatter spears have more juicy flesh between the fibers that run from crown to root.
- White, green or purple? Green asparagus is what we mostly see here, but you may spy a purple or white variety at a farmers' market or at a fancy restaurant. White asparagus is milder than the green. It is buried in the soil and kept out of the sun while it grows, to keep it from making chlorophyll. Purple asparagus is sweeter and more tender than the green. It's grown in the northwest of Italy, and in California, so it's possible that you'll spy a bunch that has been trucked in.
- To prepare, snap off the woody white ends; it should break naturally where the stem starts to toughen.
For a printable version of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Ginger Scallion Asparagus
This recipe was inspired by David Chang's Momofuku Ginger Scallion Sauce, which he serves at his famous restaurant over ramen noodles, with grilled meats or fish, on just about everything. A cup of Ginger Scallion Sauce in the fridge is indeed a culinary secret weapon.
- 2 1/2 cups finely sliced scallions, green and white, from 1-2 large bunches.
- 1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
- 1/2 teaspoons of soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1 bunch fresh green asparagus
- First, make the sauce. Mix the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt. Let sit for at least 20 minutes while you prepare the asparagus.
- Clean your asparagus, and snap off the woody, white ends. Dry with a towel.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus spears and sear until you see a few brown spots.
- Stir up the sauce and add about 1/2 cup to the pan. Lower the heat to medium, and quickly saute the asparagus so that they are covered with sauce.
- When the asparagus are almost a crispy brown, and the sauce has reduced a bit and coats the stalks nicely, remove from the heat and serve.
- Extra ginger scallion sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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- 1 bunch of asparagus
- thin slices of prosciutto, one for each asparagus
- Wash and dry the asparagus, and snap off the woody white ends.
- Wrap each stalk with one slice of prosciutto, so that it fits snuggly without covering the tip.
- Place on a tray in the refrigerator while you heat the grill.
- Grill the asparagus over medium-high heat until the prosciutto is crispy but not burnt. You could also roast the asparagus in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve as an appetizer, or alongside grilled meat.
Finally taking the advice of not one but three friends, who urged me to try Kim's Corner, I have quickly become a devoted fan of both Kim and her Korean food. (Thanks Hanneke, Cindee, and Lesli!)
Kim's Kim-Pap may be the perfect snack or light lunch: a triangle of Korean purple rice encased in seaweed, and stuffed with spicy pork, ginger beef patties or spicy tuna.
Kim's Corner is a tiny oasis of a place, with authentic Korean food handmade by Kim herself. You may have seen her storefront, on the corner by Jackson Whole Grocer, sandwiched in between the Jackson Hole Book Traders and the UPS store.
Out for a some fresh air with a girlfriend, I suggested we go to Kim's for an after-hike lunch. "Korean food in Jackson Hole?" was the incredulous response I got from Melanie, a well-travelled foodie who shuttles between Jackson and the San Francisco Bay area. Yep, Korean food right here in Jackson Hole, a place not known for its variety of ethnic restaurants.
Not only does Jackson now have a Korean restaurant, but the food is fresh and healthy, handmade and deliciously different. It is not fast-food, as you will find, as Kim carefully prepares each dish by hand. Be prepared to sip on your tea and relax on the picnic table outside her shop, while she makes each meal to order.
Kim delivers our food as she makes it. The lone picnic table can get crowded at lunch, but customers don't seem to care if they need to squeeze in elbow-to-elbow to get their Korean food.
Melanie and I decided we should earn our calories before heading to Kim's, so we could sample everything on the menu (it is a small menu).
After hiking up Snow King, then slogging through snow to get to the back side of Snow King Mountain, our appetites were getting peaked. We jogged along Josie's Ridge, then descended to meet up with the Sink or Swim trail, marvelling at the early season wild flowers along the way. By the time we had jogged back down to the base of Snow King, completing our loop in just under two hours, we were good and hungry.
Melanie ordered the Spicy Pork lunch special, which comes with Korean purple rice, spicy cucumbers, and orange pieces for dessert. It's my favorite.
Try one of Kim's Kim-Paps, if you just need a snack. A triangle of Korean purple rice, that is encased in a seaweed wrapper, and filled with spicy tuna, spicy pork, or a ginger beef patty, it is my latest addiction. Kim went out of her way one day to prepare a gluten-free Kim-Pap for a customer, who also seemed to be addicted to this little hand-held Korean snack.
The spicy tuna Kim-Pap is filled with tuna in a creamy, Korean hot sauce.
Have Kim make you a Citron Honey Tea while you wait for your order. The honey-sweetened tea is filled with the rind of citron, a Korean fruit that is a cross between a lemon and a lime. Served hot or cold, it is fun to slurp up the marmalade-like rind at the bottom of the cup once the tea is gone.
Citron is used in Korea to make yujacha, a type of Korean tea. The pith, peel and pulp of the fruit is cooked in honey to make a chunky syrup, like a Korean marmalade. (Source: Wikipedia.)
After ordering one of each type of Kim-Pap, I settled on the Soy Garlic Chicken Breast lunch special. It was lightly seasoned, tender and tasty, but I stand by Spicy Pork as my official favorite.
Me with the Soy Garlic Chicken Breast lunch special.
Kim wouldn't let us leave with out trying her favorite dish...so pretty, so tasty...the Albacore Tuna Bi-Bim-Pap, a huge salad with romaine, cabbage, sprouts, cucumber, and a special Korean sauce with sesame seeds and scallions.
Kim's Albacore Tuna Bi-Bim-Pap was a beautiful, crunchy, fresh salad with a unique sauce.
A traditional Korean mask keeps watch over Kim's little restaurant, and the steadily growing collection of the regular customers' punch cards.
Melanie and I left Kim's Corner refreshed and hydrated by Kim's tea, pleasantly satiated by the healthy food, and with that feeling of well-being that you get when someone cooks for you with great care. Kim has that special touch.
Oh, I almost forgot! Kim's Corner is a coffee shop too.
Kim's Corner: 307-413-8331
970 West Broadway, between Powderhorn Lane and Scott Lane.
Kim is currently closed on Sundays.
If you are in a hurry, call in your order ahead of time.
If enough of us keep pestering her, Kim may start offering her homemade kimchee for sale.
Everything has been indecisive this week, as we remain stuck in limbo between seasons. Freezing rain or balmy sunshine? Ski or bike? Bake a lasagna or grill a steak?
Goats ascending a ridge near the Chilean border in Northern Patagonia.
Then I remembered the food of Argentina, which always makes me want to cook, and to eat, no matter what the season. That's how steak won the what's-for-dinner dilemma; I had to grill some steaks, Argentine style, despite the pouring rain.
Carne "jugoso", Argentine style, with a good dousing of salt by Mountain Man.
True Argentine-style steak would be grilled over an open fire, using native hardwoods that instill a distinctive flavor. The beef is mostly grass-fed, and easily overdone in my opinion. Once we learned to order "jugoso", translated roughly as "juicy", all of our steaks were perfectly rare, just the way we like them here in Wyoming.
Jack and Nick enjoying a lakeside asado in Patagonia after a long day of fishing in the 7 Lakes region.
Then there are the sauces, served alongside the meat. A fancy steakhouse like La Cabrera, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, makes a true art form of their sauces. But the best chimichurri sauce can sometimes be found at the simplest parrilla, and plopped down like ketchup as your steak is brought out. No two are the same; some are more vinegary, more peppery, or more salty. Most taste of garlic, parsley, and peppers. Sometimes there's a lemony bite, or a dash of cumin.
I noticed that the chimichurri got spicier once I mastered the Argentine accent, and was able to blend in like a local. There seems to be one version for the gringos, and one for the locals, and I preferred the local chimichurri very much.
Steak with all the trimmings at La Cabrera steakhouse in Buenos Aires. So many sauces that I could make a meal out of just dipping my bread.
Nick plays with his food: Gnocchi with a locally-foraged black mushroom sauce in Villa la Langostura, Patagonia.
Let's not even get started in on the pastas of Argentina, as good as any I've had in Italy. "Pasta casera" signs are everywhere, denoting hand-made pasta distinctive to that region, that town and that restaurant. Stuffed pastas are irresistible: ravioli, raviolini, raviolone, sorrentino. Gnocchi are everywhere, some of the best I've ever had. In Argentina, a day without pasta is like a day without steak. Or dulce la leche. Or an alfajore.
Sorrentinos stuffed with leeks and local trout (trucha).
Malfatti de espinaca, con salsa mixta: a spinach gnocchi lighter than air, with a tomato cream sauce. My attempts to recreate this dish have not measured up to the originial....I promise to keep trying.
One of the most unusual pastas: a raviolo abierto (open ravioli) stuffed with trout and ricotta, like a big beautiful crepe.
Dulce la leche, usually made with goat's milk in Argentina, has a permanent place on the breakfast table, for smearing on pan tostada or semilunas (little croissants).
Alfajores may be the official cookie of Argentina. A soft sandwich cookie filled with dulce la leche, and often rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate, Argentines enjoy alfajores all day long, but especially at breakfast.
Jack with his 5 peso ice cream cone at our favorite chocolate shop, En el Bosque, in Villa la Langostura, in Patagonia. That's $1.25 in US dollars.
Argentina is proud of their chocolates, and artisanal shops can be found on every block. I love the translation; these are actually milk chocolates with rum-soaked raisins.
Not to mention the wines, the gloriously cheap, rich and complex malbecs, that flow like water everywhere you go, and match the food like magic.
I'll stop here, or we'll never have time to whip up a batch of chimichurri sauce, to serve with a grilled rib-eye steak. But stay tuned: I have an "Argentina Night" cooking class coming up, and I'll be sure to blog the highlights.
This sauce is special, not just because it takes us to Argentina, but because it can make use of that herb garden you are no doubt trying to grow, and so it tastes of spring, and the optimism it represents.
My cilantro has so far survived hail, freezing rain, snow and the twin yearling mooses who frequent my yard.
Recipes for chimichurri sauce go something like this: Chop parsley, garlic, fresh oregano and a hot red pepper. Add olive oil, a dash of vinegar, some salt and some pepper. Add cumin or red pepper flakes for heat. A squeeze of lemon, or lime. Cilantro is not traditional in Argentina, but commonly seen farther north.
As you can see, it is a sauce that is meant to be personalized. Use what's in your garden, in your refrigerator, and spice it to match your palate. You will know when you have arrived at the perfect formula when you start dunking everything...hunks of bread, cherry tomatoes, fingers and toes... into your chimichurri sauce.
This little red pepper may look pretty potent, but it is only about 3,000 on the Scoville scale.
Argentine salads, by the way, are a great use of leftovers. Anything is a salad in Argentina; lettuce is optional. Tonight we had leftover corn on the cob (the first of the season!), avocados, a small hunk of Romaine lettuce, and a few cherry tomatoes. Tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt, it is a worthy accompaniment to the main event.
Anything is a salad in Argentina; lettuce is optional.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
This is more of a guideline than a recipe. It is based on my memories of Argentina, what's growing in my garden, and what's in the refrigerator. You can serve this with steak, por supuesto, but it is equally fine with grilled chicken or fish, any kind of kebabs, or as a dip for a vegetable salad. You could also serve it with toast and eggs, but I am not sure what the Argentines would think of that!
The sauce definitely benefits from sitting for a few hours, to let the flavors mingle and marry.
- 2 cups flat leaf Italian parsley, or 1 cup of parsley and 1 cup of cilantro
- 2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped, or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 jalapeno peppers, or 1 serrano pepper, stripped of seeds and finely chopped, or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or several glugs of Sriracha sauce
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- dash of ground cumin, to taste (more if your peppers are mild)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- Place minced garlic, finely chopped peppers, and parsley or parsley/cilantro in a food processor or blender. You could also use an immersion blender.
- Process until very smooth, then add the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.
- Taste. Adjust salt. Adjust for spiciness and acidity.
- Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours, and taste again. Adjust.
- Serve with grilled steak, chicken, pork or fish. Save some for the next day to have with your eggs, on your turkey sandwich, or drizzled on leftover veggies.
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Me encanta Argentina!
Culinary phrase of the week: Scoville scale
The Scoville scale is a measure of a pepper's heat level, by a method invented by Wilbur Scoville back in 1912. At the high end of the scale, pure capsaicin (the chemical in peppers that gives them heat) registers about 15,000,000 heat units. A habanero pepper is considered to be the world's hottest pepper, with a range of 355,000 to 577,000, although there are some challengers from India. A regular jalapeno pepper, like the one I used in the above recipe, rates a mere 2,500 to 8,000.
from The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst