Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

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There an adorable young Italian woman whose blog I follow. Her name is Alida, she was born in Friuli in North Eastern Italy, and her blog is My Little Italian Kitchen.

I follow her on Facebook as well, because her daily food photos make me happy. Like these. So colorful and enticing!

Although now living in London, Alida travels often throughout Italy, visiting artisanal bakers and cheese makers, and has also won cooking competitions. Let’s just say she knows what she’s doing, and is passionate about Italian food.

To quote Alida, “Cooking is an expression of who you are and your personality. You have to put your whole self into it: your passion, feeling and experiences all go into the food and you become part of the recipe.”

In the spring of 2017, Alida posted a recipe for Asparagus Ham Lasagna that I couldn’t ignore. “Traditional” lasagna is so wonderful, but I love other varieties as well, even meatless varieties. It’s my idea of comfort food.

Fresh pasta sheets, bechamel, a purée of asparagus, ham, asparagus pieces, and Parmesan, all layered and baked to perfect deliciousness! I can’t believe I’ve waited a year to make it. Plus, it was an excuse to finally use my Kitchen Aid pasta rolling attachment.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

Ingredients
fresh lasagne sheets – 400 g – about 15 sheets
fresh asparagus – 700 g – 6 cups
grated parmesan cheese – to sprinkle
ham – 240 g – 1 + 2/3 cup
olive oil
salt
butter – knob

For the bechamel sauce:
milk – 1,5 Liters – 1.58 qt
butter – 100 g – 1/2 cup
plain flour – 80 g – 3/4 cup
grated nutmeg – pinch
salt and pepper

The pasta dough I started with included 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together and gradually add flour until a dough forms. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Roll out the lasagna sheets to the desired thickness. They can be a little thicker than sheets you would use for making ravioli. I used #6 on my attachment.

Cut to 13″ lengths and set aside.

Clean and peel the asparagus if they are large. Remove the thicker ends and cut the tips off. Cut the asparagus in small pieces and cook them in salty water. I cooked the tips first just to keep it simple.

Whiz the stems into a purée and set aside.

Make the bechamel and set aside; I’ve included a link to my own in case you’ve never made it before.

Have the grated Parmesan and ham handy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

When you’re ready to prepare the lasagna, add some bechamel to the bottom of the baking dish and cover with a few lasagna sheets.

Add some asparagus purée, ham, cheese, and more sauce. Cover again with lasagna sheets.

Continue layering. On the top, make sure there is bechamel, ham, cheese, and the remaining asparagus.

Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.


Let the lasagna sit for about 30 minutes before cutting up the servings.

The lasagna actually sliced very well while it was still warm.

You can see the lovely layers on white sauce, ham, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips.

I sliced the asparagus tips lengthwise after they had cooked and cooled, because I felt they were quite thick.

I love traditional lasagna, but this is definitely second best! And in spite of the bechamel, this lasagna doesn’t seem as heavy as traditional, probably because the only meat is thinly shaved ham. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Asparagus Soup

53 Comments

I enjoy a lot of food in its purest form. Like a ripe peach. A just-boiled potato with cheese. Radishes with butter and salt. A raw oyster immersed in its salty liqueur.

I love to cook, but I also respect beautiful, seasonal produce, like springtime asparagus and strawberries. I’d rather eat just-picked strawberries than put them in a batch of blondies, for example.

Likewise, with asparagus, preparing them simply steamed with a little olive oil and lemon is perfection to me.

However, I feel that creating a soup with fresh asparagus isn’t disrespectful. As long as you allow the asparagus to shine.

So here’s my version of asparagus soup. There’s an extra step making asparagus broth with the ends, then completing the soup. Thanks to my girlfriend Gabriella for teaching me this!

Springtime Asparagus Soup
printable recipe below

2 bunches of fresh asparagus, about 2 pounds total
1 small onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
A sprig of parsley
1 bay leaf
Pinch of salt
Chicken stock, about 32 ounces
2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
White pepper, optional

Rinse the asparagus gently in cool water. Remove the tough ends by breaking them off where they tell you to.


Set aside the asparagus for later, wrapped in a damp cloth.

Place all of the ends in a medium stock pot. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, a pinch of salt, and cover with the chicken stock.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, let the mixture cool, then pour through a colander, collecting the asparagus stock in another pot.

Add the asparagus and the butter to the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, until the asparagus has softened.

Let the soup cool, then pour everything into a large blender.


Purée the soup, adjusting the amount of liquid, depending on the consistency you prefer.

Taste for salt. Season with white pepper if desired

Serve hot or warm.

Add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche if desired. Or flower petals.

This is a very thick soup. I you prefer, substitute some cream for some of the broth.

 

 

Asparagus Gremolata

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No, you didn’t read it wrong. This isn’t asparagus with gremolata, this is actually gremolata made with asparagus!

I’m the first to snicker when cooking terms are wrongly or “loosely” used – especially on menus! Sometimes it just makes it hard to figure out what the dish is. Names like “confit” and “coulis” and now, “gremolata.”

Gremolata is a fabulous condiment of sorts, Italian in origin, made up of lemon, parsley, and garlic. It’s often served with Osso Bucco, but it’s also good with roasted meats.

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My husband and I once dined at a restaurant that served us bread with gremolata as soon as we sat down. Within a short time, the restaurant had run out of gremolata, probably because of us devouring it!

In any case, my friends had me over for my birthday in April, and I sat down to a lovely meal of steaks, grilled by him, and pasta with asparagus gremolata, made by her.

She told me it was called asparagus gremolata, and it was in a recent Bon Appetit. I was a little confused because I was familiar with traditional gremolata. In any case, it so so ingredible, I got the recipe from her and I’m making it. Here’s the recipe, photographed from the magazine.

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Besides serving the asparagus gremolata with meats and fish, Bon Appetit suggested adding pasta and arugula, which is how it was served to me. I used half spinach and half arugula!

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There was a little prep work involved, but it didn’t take much time. One thing I did was to remove the ends of the asparagus spears, so that only the thinly sliced asparagus stems were part of the gremolata.

The sliced asparagus was rinsed multiple times in icy water to keep it crisp. I was so tempted to parboil the asparagus, but it was so good as my friend made it that I didn’t want to change a thing!

A ribbon pasta would be beautiful tossed with the gremolata, but I chose pipe rigate.

Once the gremolata, the pasta and the arugula/spinach combo was tossed together, I added much needed salt and a generous amount of olive oil.

You can treat this dish as a side dish, or also like a pasta salad.

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It would be good with some shaved Parmesan as well.

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Although the arugula adds some spiciness, I could see sprinkling a little cayenne pepper flakes on the top of the pasta.

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But I just offered salt and pink peppercorns. Enjoy!

note: What was especially nice about the whole dinner, is that many friends won’t cook for me! That made the whole celebration even that more wonderful. People, if you have friends who are cooks, whether it’s their main passion in life, a hobby, or their livelihood, please cook for them! They will love it!

Cambozola Sauce

60 Comments

I remember the conversation like it was this morning, instead of twenty-something years ago. My mother and I were discussing cheese on the phone, and she brought up blue cheese. I immediately told her that I was not fond of it.

She proceeded to tell me that I knew nothing about blue cheese, and being like other Americans, my only familiarity with blue cheese was soapy-tasting blue cheese dressing that was ever-present at salad bars, which she claimed beared no resemblance to real thing.

Well, she was right. I was in high school when I began eating salads, and not being a huge vinegar fan as of yet, I didn’t eat my mother’s vinegary salads at home. I ate them instead at diners with salad bars – places you go for lunch in high school. I remember the dressing choices well. There was blue cheese, French, green goddess, and thousand island. They were all pretty terrible. Especially the blue cheese.

In any case, my mother took charge. She said, “I’ll send you a good blue cheese, and you’ll see the difference.” She did, and I did. Thank you, Mom.

The cheese she sent me was Cambozola – a triple cream blue cheese from Bavaria. Now triple cream cheeses are almost like cheating, because tripling the creaminess guarantees goodness. But this cheese was fabulous. The name stems from the fact that the cheese is like a cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola.

To this day, Cambozola remains one of my favorite cheeses. My husband and I both love it, just with crackers, or as part of a cheese platter.

Recently my husband asked me to make a blue cheese sauce for his birthday steaks, and I immediately thought to use Cambozola. I made the sauce simply with cream, and it was wonderful. I didn’t blog about the dinner because my husband, especially being his birthday, wouldn’t have appreciated the delay for the photo documentation!

I don’t typically smother good food with sauces. But just for fun, I thought asparagus would be good with a little of my Cambozola sauce.

Here’s what I did:

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Steamed Asparagus with Cambozola Sauce

wedge of Cambozola, see details in recipe
1/4 cup heavy cream
Asparagus

Unwrap the cambozola. Then trim the rinds; I didn’t think they would dissolve in the cream. What I ended up with was just a little over 4 ounces of Cambozola.

Pour the cream in a microwave-proof bowl. Yes, I’m seriously going to use the microwave for this sauce! Heat the cream gently, but get it hot. Crumble up the Cambozola as best you can and place it in the hot cream.


Let it sit for about a minute, and then whisk it.

The cheese should soften completely. I was fine with a few little blue cheese blobs in the sauce. Set aside.

Meanwhile, trim the asparagus. Good spring asparagus doesn’t typically have really woody ends, but it’s good to check in any case.
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Place the asparagus in a steamer basket and steam over simmering water for 5-7 minutes. The time will depend on how thick your asparagus spears are. Place the cooked asparagus on a paper towel to dry slightly.


To serve, I placed the hot asparagus on a plate, and poured on some of the warm sauce, which had thickened nicely.

Just for fun, I also topped the asparagus with caramelized shallots and toasted pine nuts.

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If you don’t want this sauce with asparagus, toss it with pasta, cooked potatoes, or pour it over just about any meat.

If you can’t find Cambozola locally, you can purchase it at IGourmet.com here. There is also a black label Cambozola, much more expensive, which can be purchased at IGourmet and at http://www.murrayscheese.com/cambozola-black-label.html. I cannot wait to try that!

Asparagus Pesto Pasta

41 Comments

So yesterday I shared that I’d dreamed up an asparagus version of pesto, and the recipe I came up with is quite remarkable, if I say so myself. There were so many choices with the pesto ingredients, but I decided on almonds for the nuts, and to keep the pesto herb-free. I thought about a little fresh mint at first, but I decided to just let the fresh asparagus shine.

And shine it did. It’s not a super strong pesto, especially compared to a basil variety, but it full of flavor from the almonds and garlic as well. I’m very happy with the recipe. I could just spread it on warm bread and eat it like that.

But it’s probably not surprising that I chose to toss this pesto with pasta. But I did something a little different. I’d just made some fresh ricotta the day before (yes, it will be in a future post), and I decided to mix the pesto with the fresh ricotta. It turned out perfectly. The pasta would have been delicious simply tossed with the ricotta-less pesto, with lots of grated Parmesan, but I just wanted to treat this pesto differently.

So here’s what I did:

Asparagus Pesto-Ricotta Pasta

1 – 12 ounce package of your choice of pasta

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Approximately 10 ounces of asparagus pesto
An equal amount of fresh ricotta or farmers’ cheese
Grated Parmesan

Cook your pasta according to package directions. Have you ever used one of these gadgets? It’s a rubbery thing that you place on top of your pot and it keeps the water from overflowing. Since I invariably boil over water when I cook pasta, I’ve gotten pretty good at always using this thing.

Here’s a link for a similar one to mine. Mine was a gift, so I don’t know the source specifically.

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Drain the pasta and set aside.

In a large bowl, add the asparagus pesto and the ricotta cheese.
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Mix them together with a spoon. I didn’t try to blend them together too much; I like the texture of the ricotta.
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Add the warm pasta and toss to coat the pasta completely.
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I served the pasta sprinkled with grated Parmesan, alongside a pan-fried salmon steak.
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The combination was really good.
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I think I could have also chopped the mint leaves and sprinkled them on top as well, but I didn’t.
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verdict: I will make asparagus pesto again, and again. The only difference is that the pesto by itself could taste a little more like asparagus. So I might add a little more asparagus next time, but keep the other ingredients the same. Mixed with the ricotta, the pesto is just a creamy, flavorful mixture with a hint of asparagus. It’s quite delicious, and would be a wonderful side dish to any protein, or simply served as is, with a tomato salad.
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Asparagus Pesto

19 Comments
    Do any of you ever dream up recipes? Well this is one of those for me. I remember seeing a plate of salmon steaks topped with a green pesto, but that’s not far fetched for me because I spread basil pesto on just about everything. It’s really good on chicken. But my husband would probably eat shoe soles if they were schmeared with any of my home-made pestos.

    But this one was different, because in my dream I realized that it was a pesto made with asparagus. I woke up and realized that this pesto was something I’d really have to follow through on, because it sounded so unique. It helps, of course, if you love asparagus.

    I tend to serve fresh, springtime asparagus either steamed or roasted. I don’t get too carried away with fancied up recipes, because I really like treating something like asparagus, at its peak of ripe perfection, very simply. It’s my same attitude I have with fresh fish. If it’s really good quality fish, I do very little to it. I just really want to taste the fish.

    But back to asparagus, the idea of the asparagus pesto really stuck with me. Here’s the recipe I created:

    Asparagus Pesto
    Makes about 12 ounces

    1/2 cup whole almonds, about 2 1/2 ounces
    6 ounces asparagus
    1/3 cup olive oil
    5 cloves garlic
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    Toast the almonds in a cast-iron skillet. I think a little toasting adds more of the almond flavor. Set them aside to cool.
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    Meanwhile, remove the ends of the asparagus spears and place the 6 ounces of asparagus in a steamer basket.
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    Steam until tender, about 5-6 minutes over boiling water. Then place them on paper towels to drip dry.
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    Don’t throw away the asparagus ends. If you want a really enriched asparagus soup, use the ends to make an asparagus stock, that you then can use it in the asparagus soup. I have a recipe here that describes the process.

    In a blender jar, place the cooled almonds, the olive oil, and garlic.
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    Blend until smooth. Add a little more olive oil if necessary, but you don’t want your pesto too thin.

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    Add the asparagus, salt, and lemon juice. Notice I didn’t include Parmesan in the recipe.

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    Process until the pesto is smooth.
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    So just like in my dream, I spread some of the delicious pesto on two salmon steaks and baked them.
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    The pesto is fairly mild, but it baked up beautifully and held its shape. It was really good with the salmon.
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    But just wait! Tomorrow I have another recipe using the asparagus pesto!

Bison Matambre

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I’d just thawed out two bison hanger steaks and instead of making fajitas with them, I wanted to roll them up with some kind of filling. I was originally thinking of making German rouladen but my husband doesn’t like pickles. So I picked up my big South American cookbook, called the South American Table, by Marie Baez Kijac, and there was exactly what I was looking for! Rolled up flank steak with veggies inside, called matambre

Matambre is flank steak rolled up with spinach, asparagus and roasted red bell peppers, after some marination time, and then poached in beef stock. I was definitely tempted!

So here’s what I did.

Matambre

2 – 1 pound hanger steaks or flank steaks
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Beef broth, home made or purchased, plus water if necessary
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Spinach leaves, which I forgot
Cooked asparagus
Slices of roasted red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, whisked
Cheesecloth and string

First, don’t do what I did and marinate the beef or bison first, without pounding them beforehand with a mallet. You need to make them thinner, and more even in their thickness. You’ll be overlapping the steaks in order to make the roll. Can you tell there are two steaks in the photo?!!!

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Then, place the flattened steaks in a pyrex or nonreactive baking dish. Add the vinegar, oil, oregano, garlic pepper, salt, and black pepper. Cover and marinate overnight.

Because I didn’t pound my steaks first, the seasonings that you see below on the steaks flew all over my kitchen while I was pounding away the next day, so I think it’s smarter to pound first, then marinate.

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The next day, remove the hanger steaks from the marinade and place them on paper towels. Then overlap them on your cutting board, and using your mallet again, pound the steaks together where they overlap. (You could make two smaller rolled steaks if you prefer.)

Place the beef broth in a large pot and start warming it up. The broth will have to cover the roll by at least 2 inches.

Cover the hanger steaks with the parsley and crushed red pepper.
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If you happen to remember, cover the steaks with spinach leaves. However I forgot to do this, even the spinach leaves were right there next to me.

Cover the steaks with about half of the Parmesan.

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If you remember to use the spinach, cover the cheese with the spinach leaves

Then add rows of the vegies in a crosswise direction.

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Add the rest of the Parmesan. Then drizzle on the whisked egg.

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By this time the broth should be boiling.

Roll up the steak and place on your cheesecloth. Roll it into the cheesecloth, and then tie it up like you would a roast. Then tie the ends to keep everything snug.

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Using tongs, place the roll into the boiling beef broth. Cover the pot, and simmer the roll for exactly one hour.

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After an hour, remove the roll and let it sit on a plate, emptying the plate occasionally of the broth, for about 15 minutes. Then carefully remove the cheesecloth and carefully slice away, making about 1/2″ slices. Serve hot or warm.

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If you want to eat the matambre as the South Americans do, let the roll cool in the beef stock for 30 minutes first, then transfer it to a plate and put weights on a board over the roll for a few hours or overnight. Then slice and serve. That would be beautiful for a picnic or on an hors d’oeuvres platter. I think I might do that next time, and also remember the spinach leaves.

Asparagus with a Vinaigrette

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It’s finally spring, and asparagus is abundant. Yay! Like many of you as well, I love asparagus. Simply steamed or packed into a savory pie, it’s just a lovely vegetable with a soft texture and a punch of flavor.

Since my blog is written primarily for people who are beginning cooks, or just trying out new foods, I’m doing a very simple post on asparagus, served as a salad.

Asparagus of course works well as a side vegetable, perhaps with a little olive oil and salt, or a tab of butter. But it really lends itself to a vinaigrette as well.

I use beets a lot in my cooking, including canned beets, and I always save the leftover beet juice. That way, I can reduce the juice and create a fabulous beet syrup that can be turned into a number of things, including this beet-apple vinaigrette I made in last fall.

Since it’s spring, I decided to lighten the vinaigrette up a little. I’m still calling it a vinaigrette, because I don’t like the word dressing, but there’s actually no vinegar in it. Just lemon juice.

So here’s what I did:

Asparagus with a Beet-Lemon Vinaigrette

Strained juice from 1 can (15 ounces) of beets
Juice of 1/2 lemon, strained
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
Few grindings of pepper
1 pound fresh asparagus

Place the beet juice in a small pan and begin reducing it over very low heat. It’s best not to leave the kitchen during this process because it can happen quickly.

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I estimate about 1/3 cup of beet juice, originally, which reduces to about 2 tablespoons at the most. At this point, remove the syrup from the heat and immediately whisk in the lemon juice and oil. Whisk well, then add the salt and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus, which means removing the stiff, woody ends, which are the ones that were closest to the dirt. I simply snap off the ends. Some people prefer to shave the ends, using a vegetable peeler. There’s really no right or wrong here. However, when you have a pile of asparagus ends, you can use them to make an asparagus broth using a little onion and garlic, and then use that for asparagus soup! It just adds a deeper flavor. Otherwise, the compost pile will enjoy them as well.

Personally, I only steam my asparagus. They can be steamed with any kind of contraption, as long as the asparagus is sitting over water, and the pan has a lid. Once the steaming begins, I don’t ever go beyond 5 minutes, but you’ll have to play with this time. Asparagus just isn’t good overcooked.

Place the warm asparagus on a plate, and add some of the beet-lemon dressing. Sprinkle with some extra pepper, if you like.

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Also, a bit of crumbled goat cheese or chopped toasted walnuts would also be good on this salad. Or both! This would make a fabulous first course.

If you don’t like the look of the syrup separating from the oil, place the mixture first in a mini blender and emulsify it. If you prefer it a little creamier, add a 1/2 teaspoon of mayonnaise or cream.

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Note: I know some people try to pick out the skinniest of asparagus, thinking that they are more tender, but having grown asparagus, they all come out of the ground in varying thickness, and are all tender, as long as the weather hasn’t gotten too hot.