BY AMY PENNINGTON
True confession: before I moved to Washington as a 20-something, I had never eaten asparagus. I grew up in New York and while we ate vegetables at every meal, asparagus was never one of them. It wasn’t until I started working in the Seattle restaurant industry in the late ’90s that I got into the swing of things and started looking forward to our local asparagus season. With such a versatile vegetable, the chefs would grill, sauté, steam and bake asparagus, creating a two-month parade of verdant and fresh-tasting dishes.
Luckily for us, Washington is a major producer of the country’s asparagus supply, producing over 22 million pounds annually, making it that much easier for locals to gorge. Sadly, these snappy green stalks are gone too soon—the season never lasts as long as I like.
The solution to this, of course, lies in preservation. While it’s difficult to keep the crisp in an asparagus spear, the flavors are easy to preserve. Here, we offer two ways for putting up a spring glut—one for a mint-infused asparagus pickle and another using oil as the preservation liquid. Of course, it’s never a bad idea to quick-blanch and freeze a bag or two. Between jars in the cupboard, containers in the fridge and a handful of freezer bags, you can stock up enough to last nearly until next spring.
Lemon & Olive Oil Preserved Asparagus
makes 4 pints | start to finish: about 30 to 45 minutes active time
Asparagus is a low-acid food and therefore needs special care when preserving. Here, olive oil preserves by inhibiting oxygen from touching and spoiling the asparagus. It will not, however, ward off bacteria. To insure you do not introduce bacteria, you briefly pickle the asparagus before the oil bath. The final product is stored in the fridge, as a cool refrigerator will also retard bacterial growth.
To eat this, simply strain from the oil (reserve the infused oil for sautés or salads) and use the spears in salads, soups or as a light snack. I love it for breakfast, underneath an over-easy egg and alongside buttery toast.
5 pounds asparagus, woody bits trimmed
1 ½ cups white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 wide strips lemon zest
2 sprigs rosemary, cut in half
2 cups olive oil
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, add pint jars (you may need to work in batches) and let sit for 10 minutes to sterilize. Using tongs, remove jars from water and set aside until ready to use.
Measure the asparagus to match the depth of the canning jar, leaving a 1″ gap at the top for headspace. For pint jars, the spears should be about 4″ long. Rinse the trimmed spears and set aside in a shallow baking dish.
Add the vinegar to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour over asparagus spears, letting them marinate for 10 minutes.
While the asparagus is brining, add the aromatics to the jars. To each pint jar, add equal parts salt and peppercorn, one half a garlic clove, 2 ounces of lemon juice and 1 strip of lemon zest. Set aside.
After 10 minutes, drain the vinegar and pack the pickled spears tightly into the jars. It helps to turn the jar on its side while adding the asparagus. When the jar is nearly full, add one rosemary sprig. Press asparagus together as firmly as possible and pack the jar completely.
Pour the olive oil over the asparagus, tapping the jar lightly on the countertop to release any bubbles. Cover the asparagus by 1/2″, creating an olive oil seal, and leaving about 1/2″ of headspace. Place in the fridge to macerate for at least two weeks before eating. Asparagus will last about 3 months.
sterilized jars • store in fridge
Champagne Pickled Asparagus
makes 4 half-pints | start to finish: about 45 minutes
This pickle recipe uses champagne vinegar, which is more delicate on the palate than white vinegar. The crisp mint shines through and an orange peel added to each jar lends a subtle sunny note. Use the asparagus on a green salad with a hard-boiled egg or as a side dish to grilled meat. If using in a cocktail, pair with vodka or gin for best results.
5 pounds asparagus, woody bits trimmed
5 cups champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 bunches of mint (about 1 cup densely packed leaves), 4 stems reserved
4 broad strips of orange zest
4 teaspoons allspice berries
4 whole star anise
Trim the asparagus spears to fit into a pint jar, about 4″ tall. Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Pull the pan from the heat, and add the mint (reserving four 3″ stems for the jars) and let steep off heat until the vinegar is cool.
Meanwhile, pack each pint jar with one of the reserved mint stems, a strip of orange zest, 1 teaspoon of allspice and 1 star anise. Then, add the trimmed asparagus to each jar. Pack the jars densely, fitting in as many spears as possible.
Strain the mint leaves from the vinegar and return to the stove over high heat, bringing to a boil. Using a liquid measuring cup for ease of pouring, add vinegar to each jar, leaving a 1″ head space, but making sure the tips are covered. Trim and re-pack any asparagus spears that stick up into the 1″ headspace. Once all spears are submerged in vinegar, process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the counter overnight.
washed jars • water bath