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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

06/10/2019

~ Perfect Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~

IMG_2061Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_1940I won't lie, my recipe for ~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~ is, generally speaking, my favorite way to serve asparagus.  There's just something about the high, dry heat of the oven that elevates its flavor and texture. That said, when gently poached on the stovetop, crunch-tender or fully-cooked asparagus has its place in my food world too.   When it's blanched then shocked in cold water, crunch tender asparagus is perfect to add to salad and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.  When it's fully-cooked and fork-tender, it's marvelous drizzled with an easy-to-make blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce.  Whether you choose to oven-roast or stovetop poach this versatile veggie, it is always ready to eat in ten or less minutes.

1 skillet w/a (glass) lid + 3/4"-1" water + 2 teaspoons salt. 

IMG_2037The most important thing to know about this process is:  do not overcrowd the skillet with asparagus and do your best to add spears of realtively-even thickness to the simmering water -- common sense says that skinny spears cook faster than fat spears.  Typically, depending on the desired degree of doneness, thin asparagus bathe in the water for 1-2 minutes, average asparagus take 3-4 minutes, and the fatsos take 5-6 minutes.  Past 3, 4, or 6 minutes respectively, be forewarned that asparagus will go IMG_2073from fully-cooked and vibrant green to overcooked and dull green very quickly.   Covering the skillet with a lid during the poaching process is highly recommended, as it bathes the stalks in steam as well as water, and, you have a glass lid that fits your skillet, use it, as it allows you to keep an eye on the entire process. Prior to cooking medium or thick asparagus, for a prettier presentation, use a vegetable peeler to quickly peel the skin from the lower 2"-3" of each spear.

Skinny = 1-2 minutes.  Average = 3-4 minutes.  Fat = 5-6 minutes.

IMG_203612-16 ounces asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24-32 spears after trimming trimmed of woody stalk ends, peeled or unpeeled

4-6  cups water

2  teaspoons sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce (optional)

~ IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water.  Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover.  Cook the asparagus to desired degree of doneness:  1-2 minutes for skinny asparagus, 3-4 minutes for average asparagus, or 5-6 minutes for fat asparagus.  Remove from heat and drain water from pan and return pan of asparagus to still hot stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, and, a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10-15 grinds each).  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP drizzled w/optional hollandaise or béarnaise sauce:

IMG_2064How to Shallow-Poach Asparagus Spears Perfectly:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly poach fresh asparagus spears of any thickness to the desired degree of doneness. 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler (0ptional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & (glass) lid or deep skillet w/(glass) lid

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/07/2019

~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~

IMG_2021Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No, just say NO, walk away from hard, grated or shaved, Italian cheese, soft fresh mozzarella or creamy ricotta, and please, don't roll your eyes.  Once you savor the delicate flavors in the first forkful of crab and asparagus intermingled amongst strands of lemony pasta and shreds of salty prosciutto, you will agree -- cheese, any cheese, would be is all wrong.

From 2 to 4 servings or more, prepare no more than you plan to eat.

IMG_2015The bad news.  This is not a dish that can be made in advance, and, leftovers are definitely a compromise.  The good news.  It's so easy to make so there's no reason to care about advance preparation or leftovers.  This is a restaurant dish that I have adapted for the home kitchen.  In the restaurant kitchen, a line cook quickly sautés chards of prosciutto with sliced asparagus and whole grape tomatoes in seasoned olive oil until the prosciutto is crisping and the tomatoes are blistering.  Cooked pasta gets tossed in along with a handful of crabmeat and voila:  dinner. 

IMG_2028For 2 or 4 servings roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and tomatoes:

1/2 or 1  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12-24 spears after trimming

3 or 6  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips 

12-16 or 24-32 grape tomatoes 

3 or 6  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

fresh-ground sea salt, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds

fresh-ground black or peppercorn blend, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds 

IMG_1978For 2 or 4 servings thick spaghetti and crabmeat:

8 or 16  ounces thick spaghetti

3 or 6  tablespoons salted butter

2 or 4  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

8-12 or 16-24  ounces high-quality pasteurized crab claw meat, the best available

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  Wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each -- I do half because prosciutto is salty and too much can be overwhelming, but it's your choice.  Add the grape tomatoes to the sides of pan (separate from the asparagus).  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven or toaster oven for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be soft and blistered. Remove from oven and set baking pan aside to cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.

IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 ~Step 3.  To cook the pasta, in a 4- or 8-quart stockpot bring 3 or 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat, then add 1 or 2 tablespoons sea salt to the boiling water.  Add the thick spaghetti and cook until al dente, 11-13 minutes.  Drain spaghetti into a colander.  Do not rinse.  Return steaming-hot pasta to still warm stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Using two spoons or two forks, toss as you would a salad until pasta is evenly coated in melted butter.  Add the crab claw meat to the top and cover the pot -- do not toss at this time.

IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960~Step 4.  Transfer the warm-to-the-touch asparagus to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, remove the tender asparagus tips and set aside to use as garnish.  Holding the knife at an angle and using a light touch, gently slice, to produce very-thin pieces of asparagus and chards of prosciutto.  Transfer tomatoes to board and slice into halves or quarters.

IMG_2001~Step 5.  Add the thinly-sliced asparagus spears, chards of roasted prosciutto and grape tomato pieces to the crab and spaghetti.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until just combined. Portion into warm serving bowls and serve topped with a sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt and garnished with a few tender asparagus tips.

Gently toss, portion into bowls, garnish, serve & eat: 

IMG_2016Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto:  Recipe yields 2-4 rich and hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; pastry brush; cutting board; serrated bread knife; wide-bottomed 4- or 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/05/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~

IMG_1940When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy, meaning, my family only ate it in the Spring, mostly for holidays and special occasions, or, when we reserved a table at a fancy restaurant --  restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. That said, even in the restaurants back in the 1960's and '70's, it was always of the pencil-thin type, and, it was served either lightly steamed or briefly blanched.  Thinking back, I suppose it was because these methods enhanced its color, which made for a prettier presentation.  Indeed it tasted wonderful, but, years later, circa the 1980's, when roasting vegetables and vegetable medleys became trendy, I came to realize how roasting it elevated its flavor and texture.

For even roasting choose asparagus of even thickness.

Before preparing this super-simple side-dish, please note that when it comes to roasting asparagus, thick spears work the best (thin ones, not so much).  Why?  Read on.  Thin spears can and will dry out too quickly in the required high, 425º oven heat, which can and will render them tough and stringy.  It matters not how many asparagus spears you roast, as long as they're even-sized and lined up, side-by side, in a single layer on a baking pan.  All they require is a light coating of lemon-infused olive oil (the flavor explosion from it is delightful), some freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper or a peppercorn blend, and, 9-10 minutes of time to roast.  Tick, tock.

IMG_19121/2  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12 spears after trimming

3  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips (optional)

12-24 grape tomatoes (optional)

3-4  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt, 20-25 grinds

freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, 20-25 grinds 

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1.  Line an appropriately-sized baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  If inclined, wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each.  If you like grape tomatoes add them to the sides of pan too.  Neither prosciutto or tomatoes affect the recipe or roasting time -- use them or don't, your choice.  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the optional tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven (or toaster oven for a small batch like I am making today) for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be blistered. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Gently plate & serve immediately...

IMG_1938... w/roasted or grilled poultry, fish, seafood &/or pasta. 

IMG_1953Amazingly-Simple & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized baking pan; aluminum foil, pastry brush

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/03/2019

~Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus~

IMG_1895In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  It's one of my favorite green vegetables, but, interestingly, I prefer to purchase it rather than grow it.  Why?  Frankly, when we did grow our own, on days when I needed it, I couldn't rely on enough being ready for harvest and vice versa.  Asparagus spears, which pup up out of the ground like little soldiers, grow on their own time, not mine.  Early in the season, it can take a spear up to three days to mature.  Toward the end of the season, it can mature in one day.  Asparagus farmers must maintain every row of asparagus every day.

#1)  Choose:  Fresh always matters more than thickness.

IMG_1879Asparagus begins losing its naturally sweet flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color and unblemished.  Don't buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp. The tender tips should be compact and deep-green and slightly purple-ish and not ruffled, frayed or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, choose asparagus of even thickness.  Thin asparagus is the most tender and only needs to be quickly blanched.  Medium-thickness is perfect for a brief simmer or sauté, and, thick asparagus is great roasted or grilled.

#2)  Prep: Rinse & drain, &, snap or trim. 

IMG_4343Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Since it's grown in sandy soil, give the spears a swish in a bowl of cold tap water to release any debris, then, lay them, in a single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to drain thoroughly, 5-10 minutes.  Because every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat, trimming comes next. When gently bent, the stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender.  Once you get a feel for where the stalks du jour are snapping, time can be saved by trimming several at a time with a chef's knife.

#3)  Store:  In a glass of water in the refrigerator.  

IMG_4372Once trimmed, don't put asparagus in the vegetable bin with the riffraff. Gather it up in a bunch, stand it upright in a glass containing half an inch of cold water and store it, uncovered, on a shelf in the refrigerator.  As for those woody ends, they can be stored in a food storage bag in the vegetable bin or frozen and used to make stock or soup.  Remove asparagus from refrigerator just prior to cooking. While many restaurant chefs insist upon using a vegetable peeler to shave two-three inches of skin from the bottom of each stock prior to cooking (for a prettier presentation), most home cooks do not bother -- me included. 

IMG_1878"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)