Chef Massimo's Kitchen: Spring means asparagus

Throughout my childhood, springtime brought the opportunity to get out of the city and back into the woods, lakes and rivers in search of perfect fishing spots. Inevitably, this would mean a very long drive, followed by a very long walk through a forest to scout an area that I hadn’t yet discovered the previous fishing season.

Finding these special hidden places also brought the opportunity to forage from the spring vegetation that was rising out of the soil. My dad was well versed in what to eat — and what not to eat — from the woods. Eating berries and mushrooms from deep in the forest with my dad is one of my favourite childhood memories.

My preferred wild vegetable is asparagus as it is easy to find and collect. It takes very little to enhance its flavour, so the preparation is best kept simple. After washing and cutting the ends of the stalks, I boil, grill, roast, sauté or fry them, then finish the dish with olive oil, seasoning butter or a sauce.

We might not be able to find wild asparagus on Grand Cayman, but springtime brings bountiful cultivated asparagus to our shores, often at reduced prices.

Store-bought asparagus is versatile and can be prepared simply like wild asparagus, but it can also hold up to bolder ingredients such as garlic, mustard, red wine vinegar and olives.

Here is one of my favourite asparagus recipes:

CHILLED GREEN ASPARAGUS SOUP WITH CRAB AND AVOCADO SALAD

(Feeds four)

1 pound green asparagus, ends snapped or cut off and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for finishing the dish
10 fresh basil leaves
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
1.5 quarts water
½ pound baby spinach
1 sprig fresh tarragon (leaves only)
1 lemon, juiced
1 pound pasteurised crab meat
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 avocado, diced
1 lime, juiced
Smoked paprika

For the soup

  • In a medium pot, add olive oil, shallots and chopped asparagus — sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add coconut milk and 1.5 quarts of water. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Take off heat and add spinach, basil and tarragon. Let cool a bit.
  • Pour soup into a blender in stages and blend until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, then place in refrigerator to chill.

For the salad

  • In a small bowl add crab meat, mayonnaise, granulated garlic, Tabasco sauce and lime juice and mix well.
  • Add diced avocado and fold in gently.

Arrange the dish

Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the crab and avocado salad on one side of the bowl. On the other side of the same bowl, pour the chilled avocado soup. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and drizzle with olive oil.

Massimo de Francesca is the executive chef at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

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This article appears in print in the April 2021 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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