It is impossible not to marvel at the bountiful bunches of asparagus at the farmer's market this week. In fact, they even look appealing at our supermarket. Here are two simple preparations: Chilled Asparagus Tonnato with "Confetti" -- perfect for a first course or side dish, and my rather unusual Truffled Asparagus Soup with Pineapple Reduction. The soup is asparagus to the second power, made from boiled stalks and garnished with roasted tips. But the real surprise is a syrupy reduction of pineapple juice. It all makes a compelling flavor match that is among my favorites. Note: If you boil the asparagus "peelings" in salted water until just tender and shock in cold water, you will have a tangle of something that looks a lot like fettuccine. Sometimes I toss it with freshly cooked pasta or use as a garnish for a salad or cold dish. Chilled Asparagus Tonnato with "Confetti" The inspiration for this dish comes from vitello tonnato -- the Italian preparation of cold sliced veal covered with a creamy tuna sauce and sprinkled with capers. Here the tuna sauce is fashioned from oil-packed canned tuna, slices of lemon, garlic and olive oil, and pureed until it has the texture of thick heavy cream.
1-1/2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil 5-ounce can oil-packed Italian tuna 1 large garlic clove 1 large lemon handful of mesclun or edible flowers, torn into tiny "confetti" pieces 2 tablespoons large brined capers, drained
Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil; fill a bowl with ice water. Place the asparagus in the boiling water. Cook until crisp-tender, 6 minutes. Drain immediately and plunge into the ice water; let sit 3 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and divide the asparagus among 4 plates. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Combine the tuna and its oil, the garlic, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 thin lemon slices with rind (without seeds) in a food processor or blender. Process until very smooth, adding enough water and lemon juice so that the texture is thick and creamy. Add salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the asparagus and sprinkle with the "confetti" and capers. Serves 4
Truffled Asparagus Soup with Pineapple Reduction Although there are several steps, this is a radically simple means toward a complex flavor profile.
1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice 2-1/2 pound medium asparagus, peeled 1 tablespoon olive oil 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced 1-1/2 teaspoons white truffle oil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the juice in a small skillet and boil over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup. Set aside. Discard the bottom inch or two from each asparagus spear. Cut off the tips and place in a pie pan; toss with the olive oil. Roast 8 minutes, until just tender. Cut the asparagus stalks into 2-inch pieces. Place in a 4-quart pot with the butter and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and cover. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Process, adding as much cooking liquid as needed to make a smooth, thick puree. Add the truffle oil and salt and pepper and reheat. Ladle into bowls and top with the roasted asparagus tips. Drizzle with the pineapple reduction. Serves 4 to 6