Friday, May 20, 2011

Amen to Asparagus...

I don't think I'm supposed to admit this, but I think I might be a bit of a "Cafeteria Catholic" know, the type that strolls through the believers' buffet line scooping up a tasty morsel here and a juicy nugget there rather than gobbling up everything that is served.

I'm going to go ahead and trust that this confession is not going to send me straight to the fiery pits of hell and believe that I am a better person for admitting my inconsistencies. I'm also going to go out on a limb and claim that, by the time I reach the end of that blessed buffet line, my plate is more full of God-lovin' goodies than most who check the Catholic box.

I have witnesses that can attest to my presence at church on a somewhat consistently inconsistent basis. Anyone that knows me has admired the collection of shiny little gold Jesuses, Marys and Guardian Angels that swing from a long gold chain around my neck. They've seen me wave them like a voodoo priestess with a charmed chicken bone over anyone or anything in need of a little blessing. And, I bet you don't have a cool, glow-in-the-dark St. Christopher medal clipped to your car visor like I do.

You get my point. I may not be the perfect Catholic but I do have faith, I want to believe, and most importantly, we try to teach our kids by example that the good ole' "Golden Rule" should be the litmus test for any choices they make now and in their adult lives.

So, "Donna," you ask, "what  in heaven's name can any of this have to do with asparagus?"

I'm so glad you asked.

Last weekend was Will's First Holy Communion and I've gotta tell plate runneth over.

Watching those little second grade soldiers, all primped up and pious, march up the aisle suited in their First Communion finery was enough to bring any lost lamb back into the fold.

Can it really be 40 years ago that we made that march?

Check out little Charlie's sweet tie clip...
Yes, the wallpaper is olive green and gold foil stripes. That's Grandma Anna in the mirror taking the photo.

Hey, Charlie and I even put a decent little chunk of change into the offertory basket and when the second collection came around, I didn't feign distraction, pretending to urgently dig a tissue from the depths of my purse. We actually reached into our wallets and served it up again! Go Team!

Well, what would any sacrament worth its salt be without a healthy helping of food and booze to follow? So the thirty-five in our brood caravaned back to our pad to properly feast on bread and good Catholics should.

Yes, the cake was compliments of Safeway...sometimes you've just gotta let go...

Aside from the bread and wine, we served up yummy cheeseburgers (Willy's request), Auntie Mary Kay's world famous potato salad (Charlie's request), Fatoosh salad (Heidi's recipe from Insalata's), a gorgeous tropical fruit platter crafted by Grandma Liz and my little tribute to spring...grilled asparagus with lemon vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts. The appetizers and dessert were tasty too but I'll save that for some other time.

OK, so I did make iced sugar cookie favors...crosses with Willy's monogram

I love this asparagus dish for a buffet because it's bright, colorful, looks a little bit fancy but is relatively inexpensive (when asparagus are in season), super easy, and totally OK to do the night before.

Start by snapping the woody ends from the asparagus stalks. Choose fresh veggies with firmly packed tips, pinch them with two hands toward the end, then gently bend in what you guess might be the weak point until the tough part snaps right demonstrated below by my trusty assistant.

You'll be left with a pile of tender stalks. Another way to go is to peel the tough ends with a vegetable peeler. This saves more of the stalk and makes for a fancier presentation but who has time for that?

Drizzle them to coat with olive oil...

Then pop them on a hot grill and roll them around until they are heated through and have lovely marks... the photo below. Don't overcook...keep them crispy as they are tastier this way and they will continue to steam in their own heat as they cool. If an outdoor grill isn't practical, use an indoor grill pan or roast them in the oven in one layer on a baking sheet.  After cooled, you can cover them and refrigerate until it is time to plate and dress just before service.

Whip up your vinaigrette the night before too. A couple of tablespoons of fresh lemon juice...

...a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, minced shallots, olive oil, a bit of sugar, pepper and voila! Good stuff. I like to dump all of my ingredients into a little jam jar and give 'em a good shake. Makes for easy storage too.

Drizzle the dressing over the grilled veggies and sprinkle with finely chopped, toasted hazelnuts. After munching on these for dinner last night, I think I'd go a little finer with the nut chop than pictured here so the nuts don't roll off he stalks so easily.

Get 'em while they're still in the stores and enjoy!

Grilled Asparagus with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Trim, coat with olive oil, and grill until just tender:
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
Dump into a jar, close the lid tightly, shake until emulsified then drizzle over plated  asparagus:
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. finely-minced shallot
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
 Toast, skin,chop until fine and sprinkle over to taste:
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
Serves 6