Hungry Hollow Asparagus

Undoubtedly, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. At this time of year I always look for it at the Farmers’ Market. There was fresh asparagus at the market on Sunday but I didn’t buy it. Instead, I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store and  bought some. I didn’t buy it there because the price was better. It was actually about the same. I bought it because it was from Durst Organic Growers, local fourth generation farmers from the “Hungry Hollow” area at the mouth of the Capay Valley.

Capay Valley, about 45 miles from where I now live, is where I lived during my last two years of High School. We had a 40-acre Almond ranch there and the elementary and high School, in Esparto is where all the kids from up-the-valley and all the areas surrounding Esparto went. Some kids spent an hour on the bus getting to school and another getting home. The buses carried both elementary and high school (there was no middle or Jr. High) kids, so if you were from a large family like me, you rode to school on the same bus as your brothers and sisters.  The schools were very small by today’s standards, about a couple hundred of us at the high school and that’s probably being generous. My senior class had thirty-two. It was a wonderful place to live in those days, a little like Mayberry RFD. The Durst kids went to school with my younger sisters. Some of their cousins were in my class. In small towns everybody is somebody’s cousin, unless like me, you moved there.  So maybe it was nostalgia that brought me to buy their asparagus. But really, I don’t think nostalgia was the reason. Durst Organic Growers bring beautiful products to market so while nostalgia may have played some small part in my choice I was really just looking for the very best asparagus available. The only asparagus I’ve had that beat theirs was some wild asparagus I found growing in a meadow along a trail where I was walking. It was so beautiful, some of the spears had leafed out into their fern-like foliage and tucked below it were perfectly shaped spears, some  about 7 inches tall and no bigger around than a pencil. The temptation was too great. I had to to taste this perfection.  I broke off the spears and ate them, slowly, one by one, relishing their taste and texture. They were sheer heaven.  I don’t know what there is about foraging food but to me it always tastes much better than anything I can buy.

To celebrate my asparagus bounty I grilled some and added it to a penne pasta recipe I came across on one of my recent digs (through recipe clippings of which I have more than I probably need). This is not heavy, although with all that cream one would think it would be. I didn’t feel it over whelmed the vegetables. I could still taste their bright spring flavors.

Penne with Asparagus, Peas, Mushrooms & Cream

8 – 10 servings

1 lb thin asparagus

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 medium shallots, minced

¾ pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ lbs penne rigate

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen baby peas (if frozen thaw them before using)

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over high heat, turning until it is lightly charred and very tender, about 6 minutes. Cut the asparagus to 1-inch lengths. (I used my BBQ instead of the cast-iron grill pan)

2. In a very large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring once or twice until the mushrooms are golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water.

4. Add the pasta to the skillet along with the asparagus, peas and grated cheese and toss well. Add the reserved pasta water and simmer, tossing, until the pasta is nicely coated. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Serve right away.

More asparagus ideas from Annie:

Grill’n Between Storms

Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans Prized Asparagus. Me too.

Slow Post for a Quick Stir-Fry

Morning Musings

Some of my morning time, especially when it’s still dark outside and wandering through the garden isn’t an option, I spend time catching up on some of the interesting and entertaining blogs I follow. This morning, while browsing, I opened up one from Smitten Kitchen that had an interesting sounding recipe for Buttery Herb Gruyere Toasts that were served with soft-boiled eggs. This sounded pretty tasty so I made a note to come back to it.

After reading for a while I decided to take another look at the Gruyere Toasts recipe and check to see if I had the ingredients on hand. I did, so I mixed together the ingredients and popped the Buttery Toasts into the oven. As the incredible smell of the toasts filled the kitchen I carefully cooked up a couple of perfect soft-boiled eggs. Now the moment of truth. Would the toasts taste as good as they smelled? Would the eggs be soft, silky and delicious?

I sat down with a cup of coffee and a smile on my face to enjoy my creation. Just as I had hoped the combination of the toasts and eggs lived up to my expectations.

As I enjoyed the perfect combination of eggs and toast  my mind wandered back my freshman year of high school at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, CA. Not because I remembered fixing eggs and toast for breakfast then but because this is when I raised laying hens for my Ag class project.

I remember my hens fondly. They were Plymouth Rocks and would come running whenever they got a glimpse of me. I’d like to say it was because they liked me and where happy to see me but the truth be told, they thought I was bringing them something to eat and they were anxious to see what it was. Sometimes I was just bringing mash we bought at the feed store but other times it was scraps from the kitchen. They never discriminated they were just as excited with one as the other. Those girls just loved food.  I have never forgotten those silly hens and how much I enjoyed them even though some parts of their care wasn’t that much fun. Cleaning their coop comes to mind.  Sometimes I think about getting a few hens to keep but my yard is very small and I know the girls and I would not see eye to eye on what was OK to eat from my garden and what was not. Not to mention what was scratched from the earth in their search for tasty morsels.

Thinking on the hens reminded me of the Farmarettes (yes that was really the name), a club girls attending Ag classes could join during those days.  My yearbook  states we were; “a very active organization that held sno-cone sales early in the fall and took many field trips to various places where we viewed many different phases of agriculture and farming”. It also states that the highlight of the year, “something that the girls will long remember, was the Farmerettes initiation”. Really? I don’t remember anything about an initiation or selling sno-cones. Not saying I have a perfect memory but you’d think I’d remember something that was supposed to be so much fun.  I do, however, remember learning how to judge and show pigs, sheep and pigs. I used to remember the names of the breeds we studied but as the years have passed most of them have faded away. I only took the Ag class that year but I remember more from it than from many of the other electives I had during my high school years.

This picture (scanned from my yearbook) was taken of our Farmerette group learning about showing and judging beef cattle. Yes, we still wore dresses in those days, even when we were judging cattle. The girl with very short hair standing to the left of the instructor is me.

Times may have changed but my love of soft-boiled eggs with a crisp piece of toast to dunk in the warm runny yolks hasn’t. That brings me back to the post from Smitten Kitchen that I want to share with you all. These toasts are easy to put together, versatile and delicious. If you love savory, crispy bread, give them a try and while you’re over on Smitten Kitchen’s site browse some of her other posts. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s lots of delicious ideas there.

Other egg breakfast recipes from Annie:

Crab omelette

Martha’s Mom’s Crustless Quiche

Eggs Side by Side