Take a chance on asparagus, apricots and fennel this summer

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After a long winter filled with a lot of snow and many days shut inside with nothing to do, May is a fine month to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Take full advantage of seasonal vegetables and the first fruits of this year’s spring harvest.

Summer is nearly two months away and officially begins on June 20. So I would like to encourage the readers of The Northside Chronicle to introduce their kitchen to a New Year and season by cooking some not-so-obvious choices.

Let me begin with discussing some interesting facts about a few of my favorite spring ingredients such as, asparagus, apricots and fennel. Then I will share some of my favorite recipes from my kitchen!

Asparagus

Asparagus has been used for its medicinal properties since early times and is listed in one of the oldest surviving book of recipes, “Apicius,” written by a Roman author more than 1500 years ago. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetables for use in winter.

The tips of dried asparagus make for a great addition to stir fries in the Cantonese style, along with shrimp or chicken, ripe and robust tomato chunks and traditional Cantonese sweet and sour sauce, not the ketchup based American version (see recipe below).

Asparagus can be easily pickled using a variety of marinades and is a great low-calorie snack for any time of year.

Recipe: Asparagus with Lemon Garlic Aioli

  • One bunch asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 ½ c. neutral mayonnaise
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ¼ c. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • ¼ c. chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Garnish: Roma tomatoes and fresh shaved parmesan cheese

Aioli: Add mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and zest to a blender, blend till smooth. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

Asparagus: Rub asparagus with oil, salt and pepper. Over an open flame on medium heat, grill asparagus for seven to 10 minutes or until done. Remove asparagus to a platter and drizzle with aioli. Garnish with Roma tomatoes, parmesan cheese and parsley. Variation: garnish with fresh chopped dill.

Apricots

The apricot is a species of plum native to China and in Greece is known as “nectar of the gods.” We have Alexander the Great to thank for its gain in popularity, since he is credited with introducing this delicious fruit to Greece around 100 B.C. He exported some trees to Europe, which later made their way to Australia, Spain, Mexico and the United States.

The apricot is considered an aphrodisiac and used in this context in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And dreaming of apricots according to English folklore is said to be good luck.

Fresh apricots are the perfect kind of fruit to serve with chicken, fish or beef. For a nice twist I encourage a fusion of fresh and dried apricots, making a gastrique from the fresh apricot and coating a dried one. Then simply garnish with your favorite aromatic herbs, seasoning and nuts to create your own exciting variation.

Recipe: Apricot Chicken with Lemon Butter and Rosemary

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 c. apricot preserve
  • 1 ½ fresh apricot, diced
  • ½ c. dried apricot, diced
  • Fresh rosemary
  • ½ lime juice
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ c. Chablis
  • Sea salt, black pepper
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Garnish: Mescaline mix and white rice

Apricot Compote: Sauté shallot in olive oil; deglaze with Chablis and reduce by half. Add fresh apricot, dried apricot, lime juice and reduce to Au sec, add apricot preserve, keep on the heat for a minute, chill overnight.

Lemon Butter: To a pan add juice of two lemons, a dash of Chablis and reduce by half, add butter and whisk to combine. When butter is nearly melted, remove from heat.

Rub chicken breasts with olive oil, salt and pepper then grill over open flame. To serve, top with the apricot compote, rosemary leaves and sunflower seeds. Serve with white rice and mescaline mix drizzled with lemon butter.

Fennel

I mentioned to a friend that I was writing about fennel, and judging by his reaction and comments I knew I was doing the right thing. It seems this common seed that flavors many popular dishes receives the strangest and curious looks from people who can’t quite place it.

Fennel is a highly flavorful and aromatic herb, with scent and flavor like licorice and anise. It is mainly indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean and is used in many recipes with fish and seafood. It is also used in pickling spices and as a flavoring for many meats and sausages.

Recipe: Mediterranean Fish with Fennel and Kalamata Olives

  • 4 white fish fillet (striped bass, halibut or orange roughy)
  • 1 lemon
  • 9 oz. fresh spinach
  • 5 oz. pkg. campanelli tomatoes
  • 2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1/3 c. kalamata olives, halved
  • 3 tbsp. olive juice
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • White wine
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. white or brown sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Fish fumet

Kalamata Cream: Sauté shallot in olive oil; add white wine, olives, olive juice and sugar, reduce to Au sec. Add heavy cream and reduce to slightly thickened consistency, coating the back of a spoon. Hold for service.

Fish: Sauté fish fillets in non stick oven ready pan with olive oil. Turn and add white wine, fumet and lemon; place in the oven to finish cooking, about seven to 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Fennel: Sauté the fennel in olive oil over medium high heat, add garlic and sauté, when fennel begins to caramelize add some white wine to steam and add the spinach and campanelli tomatoes, toss just to warm through, lightly season with salt and pepper. Serve fish over the fennel mixture, drizzled with kalamata cream and garnish with fennel leaves.

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