Imported asparagus are available all year round, but there’s nothing to beat the flavor and texture of those locally grown in its short spring season: in Ireland, traditionally beginning on April 23 and ending on Midsummer Day. Although its delicate flavor and seasonality make it highly desirable in the kitchen, asparagus is much more than just a pretty vegetable: it’s long been recognized as a good source of dietary fiber and is high in antioxidants. Go grab some now!

ASPARAGUS, CHEDDAR, MUSTARD, HAZELNUT CRUMB & FRIED CAPERS

Serves 4

         Paradiso, Denis Cotter’s restaurant in Cork City, serves some of the most imaginative vegetarian and vegan dishes in Ireland. They’re created most often by adding layers of flavor and texture to one ingredient, like this recipe featuring asparagus. At Paradiso, asparagus is topped with Hegarty’s cheddar, a sumptuous Cork-made cheese (you can substitute Kerrygold’s Mature or Reserve Cheddar), nutty crumb, and tangy capers. Make the crumb (Cotter calls it the “crunchy stuff” because it delivers a “flavor hit” to vegetarian dishes) and fry the capers in advance.

For the hazelnut crumb

2 ounces skinned hazelnuts

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 225°F. Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Let cool; coarsely chop.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Toast, stirring frequently, until golden. When crumbs are crisp, stir in the nuts and thyme. Cook for about 1 minute. Remove from heat; let cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for up to 2 weeks).

For the fried capers

4 ounces capers

Canola oil for frying

  1. Drain the capers; pat dry. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil. Add the capers; fry until they stop sizzling. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Dry and cool. (Can be stored in a dry airtight container for 2 to 3 days).

For the sauce

1/3 cup white wine

1/4 cup vegetable stock

2/3 cup cream

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 ounces Cheddar, finely grated

Salt

Ground black pepper

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the wine and stock to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer. Cook to 4 to 6 minutes, or until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the cream; return to boil.
  2. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, until the sauce thickens slightly. Whisk in the mustard and Cheddar until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

For the asparagus

12 to 16 asparagus spears, ends snapped

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt

  1. Trim the asparagus by holding each about halfway down the stalk; bend until the tender stalk separates from the tougher base. Heat a heavy-based skillet or griddle pan over high heat. Add the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning often, until asparagus are seared and nearly tender.
  2. To serve, arrange the asparagus on individual plates or a serving platter. Reheat the mustard cream; pour over. Sprinkle on the hazelnut crumb and capers.                     To order a signed copy, visit irishcook.com

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