Create quick, easy meals with asparagus, ham and potatoes
Sunday morning it was 36 degrees. Is it spring? Summer? Or winter?
This year the weather has been playing havoc –with snow in May for Mother’s Day, then really hot weather … It seems like it is either 40 or 90. Our poor asparagus came up in June rather than May. We thought we had lost them.
When buying asparagus from local farmers, look for firm, bright-green spears with tightly packed tips that are straight and brittle. Open or wilted tips indicate it is past its prime. Use your fingernail to test the bottom of the stalk. If it is dry with no juice, it will be tough and fibrous.
Eat as soon as possible: fresh is best. Asparagus begins to lose both crispness and flavor from the minute it is harvested. Tenderness is related to freshness and maturity rather than size. The thick stems are already fat when they emerge from the ground; they don’t get fatter as they grow.
If you need to store it, keep your asparagus in the coldest part of your refrigerator. To maintain freshness, wrap the stem ends in a damp paper towel, or stand them up in a couple inches of water.
To cook, snap off the tough stem ends, wash in cool running water, and cook in boiling water two to five minutes, depending on thickness of the spear. The cooking water will have a lot of flavor and can be saved and used in asparagus soup.
Grown in the Mediterranean basin for over 2,000 years, asparagus is a dieter’s paradise. Each tender, flavorful stalk has only four calories, and is rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, A, C, and thiamine. A natural diuretic, asparagus can prevent the bloat many women experience prior to menstruation.
Asparagus is versatile; it is great in a variety of ethnic cuisines, from Italian to Oriental, and can be prepared by steaming, grilling, or roasting. It’s great in soups, salads, stir-fries and casseroles. It pairs really well with potatoes and ham.
Contrary to popular opinion, potatoes are quite nutritious. It has more iron than a 3-ounce hamburger and more potassium than a banana. One serving (about one medium potato, or 1/3 pound) provides 45% of the RDA for Vitamin C, 21% of the RDA for potassium, 3 grams of fiber, and 15% of RDA for vitamin B6, with no fat or cholesterol. The potato also contains the antioxidant glutathione, which helps protect against some types of cancer. They are also satiating — one serving is about 100 calories.
Ham (fresh or cured) is made from the hind leg of the pig. In addition to protein, ham is a good source of Vitamin C and Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Phosphorus and Selenium. Cured ham is also high in salt, nitrates and sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation.
Enjoy your asparagus, potatoes and ham in these recipes for a quick skillet, a salad and an oven roast.
Asparagus, Potato and Ham Skillet
A little oil for the pan (about a teaspoon)
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 lb. diced smoked ham
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup fresh minced parsley
Peel potatoes (optional) and cut into cubes.
Heat oil to coat bottom of skillet.
Add potatoes and sprinkle with salt. Cover and cook 3 – 4 minutes.
Peel and dice the onion; add to the potatoes.
Prepare the asparagus by cutting off tough ends, rinsing in cool water and slicing in 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
Stir contents of skillet; if too dry moisten with a little of the broth. Cook 5 – 10 minutes until potatoes begin to soften.
In a jar or bowl, combine rest of the broth, milk, flour, turmeric and black pepper.
Stir in ham and asparagus and cook another 5 minutes.
Pour in the broth mixture. Cook until everything is desired tenderness and broth thickens.
Stir in parsley, cook 1 minute, and serve.
Spring Potato Salad
This main dish salad combines asparagus with young new potatoes and the fresh scent of lemons.
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 pound small red-skinned potatoes (about 4 – 5)
1/2 pound asparagus spears (about 15- 20)
1/2 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/2 cup red pepper, sliced in thin, one-inch strips (about half a pepper)
1/2 cup thinly sliced mild onion (about 1/4 large)
1/2 cup diced ham OR 2 eggs, cooked (hard boiled)
In bottom of salad bowl, blend olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt, tarragon, and lemon pepper.
Bring water with remaining salt to a boil. Scrub potatoes and cut up; add to pan, and cook about 5-7 minutes. Test for doneness. Snap asparagus into one or two inch lengths, reserving tips. Add to pan; cover and simmer one minute. Drain (you can reserve the water for cooking asparagus soup later). Stir lemon juice into the dressing, and stir in potatoes, asparagus and reserved tips. Add mushrooms, thinly sliced red pepper and thinly sliced onion. Stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature about an hour to cool and blend flavors. Serve garnished with diced ham or slices of hardboiled egg.
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook as Words are my World.