Locally Yours: Asparagus a sure sign of spring

By: Carol Arnold
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With the arrival of the asparagus at the market, I achieved a new personal milestone. I made it through the winter months without getting tired of the same old vegetables and fruits. With my new-found appreciation for Asian vegetables and new-found recipes for some traditionally available veggies, what was previously drudgery has become a pleasure. Over the winter months, my family feasted on broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, chard, bok choy, leeks, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli rabe, arugula, kale, spinach, and winter squash. We have had beets, turnips, rutabagas, watermelon radishes and used fresh herbs to brighten up our meals. Japanese sweet potatoes have become a staple. With variety like this at the local farmers market it is much easier to make it through the winter eating seasonally. I think it helps to have recipes at your fingertips. If you eat steamed broccoli and cauliflower for five months, it can get to be a bit boring. Steam the veggies but add some sesame seeds, sesame oil, and soy sauce. If you are roasting vegetables, adding spices and some aromatics, those same vegetables become more appealing. When you add some new vegetable varieties to your diet, eating locally grown, in season foods becomes not only doable, but satisfying. The spring crops are just starting to arrive at the markets. We have bright green asparagus from Thao’s Farm and giant artichokes from Rodriguez Ranch. The first strawberries have arrived. Try slicing some strawberries and adding them to orange segments from Pilz Produce for a special treat. The sweetness of the strawberries combined with the tang of the orange makes an incredible dessert. This week’s recipe features asparagus from Thao’s Farm in Elk Grove. A friend of mind, Mike, commented that risotto is often full of cream and butter and not very good for you. Well Mike, this recipe is for you. No butter, no cream, just a bit of olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. The resulting risotto is much lighter than that which is produced from traditional recipes. The taste of the asparagus really shines through. If you want to be a bit more decadent, add a bit more cheese and transform the leftover risotto into a risotto cake. Add a bit of protein and you have prepared a complete meal. The directions call for the risotto to be sautéed in olive oil; if you can afford the calories use a bit of butter instead. The resulting Asparagus Risotto Cake is oh so good! Carol Arnold is general manager of the Foothill Farmers Market Association. Contact her by e-mail at ___________ Asparagus Risotto 2 tablespoons olive oil ¼ cup minced green onions 2 cups Arborio (risotto) rice ½ cup white wine 3 cups water or chicken broth (heated) 2 pounds thin asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste 2 tablespoons minced chives ¼ to ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese Heat the water or broth in a saucepan. Keep warm. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the green onion; stir constantly while cooking about 3 minutes, to soften. Add rice and stir to coat with oil. Add wine and cook until reduced, stirring constantly. Add the water or broth one cup at a time and cook until absorbed. When adding the last cup of water, add the asparagus and remaining seasonings. Cook until liquid is absorbed and asparagus are tender crisp. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Serves 4. Risotto Cakes 1 tablespoon olive oil, omit if using non-stick pan (fewer calories!) Left over asparagus risotto Left over cubed chicken, beef or lamb, cut into small pieces (optional) ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese Mix risotto, leftover meat, and the cheese. Heat the oil in a saute pan. Press the mixture into any serving size ramekin or bowl or measuring cup. (3/4 cup if you have it) Turn the formed risotto cake into the pan. Saute until crisp. Flip the cake. Saute the second side until crisp. Serve.