Asparagus and wine make a tricky pairing

aspagus lasagna

The first sign of spring has appeared in the produce section — it’s asparagus season.

As a kid, I walked along canals and picked wild asparagus and ate it raw. It has an apple-like crunch and a unique flavor. Try adding finely chopped pieces to a tossed green or pasta salad. Add a few spears to the skillet with a dab of butter and let it brown just a couple of minutes before adding whisked eggs for an omelette stuffed with a mild chèvre or some grated Irish Cheddar.

My recent discovery of a double peeler just takes two strokes to peel the lower half of a stalk, saving time and reducing waste. The straight spears will cook more evenly and the peeling removes the stringy outer skin. Blanching for 2-3 minutes in a large pot of water will deepen the color and leave the spears with a nice crisp texture to then incorporate into many recipes.

Wine pairings have long been a challenge with asparagus. It’s a vegetable that has such a distinctive flavor that you really need a wine that is fresh and bright but without dominant flavors. Look no further than the varietals, or grape types, that begin with V.

Venture outside of routine with a cast of options like Viognier, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Verdicchio, Vino Verde and Verdejo.

Viognier is described as “the heavenly white” for its complexity and fragrance. The wine is delicate and fresh, with hints of almonds, white peaches, honeysuckle and pear blossoms.

Verdicchio has a subtle lemon aroma and bright acidity, making it a great choice for asparagus with cheese sauce. This grape is also found in the blended wine from Italy called Soave.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano is an ancient variety, favored by Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, and is similar to the Viognier but with a touch of bitter almond and very fine mineral notes. Even folks who “only like red wine” find this wine impressive. Vernaccia should be served slightly chilled to really enhance its complexity. It’s a personal favorite, and I serve it with asparagus mushroom lasagna.

Vino Verde is another beacon of spring and is one of the best wines for lighter, fresh produce-based meals. It comes from Portugal, is low in alcohol and has a bit of spritz. It is youthful and fun, has honeydew melon and pear notes and would be the wine I’d reach for to pair with an asparagus and red pepper frittata.

Verdejo, grown in the Rueda region of northwest Spain, has a very old and very young story. Originally from North Africa, it was planted in Spain in the 11th century. It wasn’t until the 1970s that a small Spanish winery developed the fresher style we know today. The grapes are always harvested at night to protect the fragrant and complex freshness of the wine.

Verdejo would be excellent with shrimp and asparagus pasta, simply dressed with sautéed garlic and good olive oil.

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Asparagus Mushroom Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups sauce (below)
  • 4 strips bacon, chopped, lightly browned
  • 1 leek, only the white part, finely chopped, cooked with bacon
  • 36 spears asparagus (peeled, blanched and trimmed to 9”)
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 3 roasted peppers, cut into ½-inch strips
  • 1/2 cup Moroccan cured olives, pitted (substitute Kalamata)
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
  • 1 package egg roll wrappers (or rice skins or no-boil noodles)
  • 2 teaspoons tomato pesto or bruschetta topping

Directions

  • Place a single layer of wrappers into a 9-inch square baking dish, trim a wrapper into strips to completely cover the pan without overlapping.
  • Evenly distribute 1/3 of the vegetables and bacon mixture on a layer of the wrapper.
  • Spoon 1/4 cup of sauce over the layer.  Top with 1/4 cup of each cheese.
  • Repeat for two more layers, cover with a final layer of wrapper and press slightly.
  • Spread the tomato pesto over the top, top with cheese, remaining sauce, asparagus spears and mushroom.
  • Cover with foil and cook 35 minutes.
  • Remove foil and cook 15 minutes.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Mushroom Veloute Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock, simmer in a 1.5-quart saucepan
  • 4 tablespoons each butter and flour

Directions

  • Melt butter in small saute pan, whisk in flour until the roux is smooth and cook until slightly golden, about six minutes.
  • Add to broth and whisk together 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms, add to sauce and cook for 20 minutes and cool.

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-Beverly Calder, owner of Bella

 

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