Monday, June 16, 2008

Recipe: Asparagus and Polenta with Fried Capers

I might be a little late in posting this, since I didn't see any asparagus at the market on Saturday and there's a chance the season is over already, but in case you can still find fresh asparagus in your area, you should give this a try. (Also, know that I am a little jealous of you. Asparagus season never lasts long enough!)

This meal would have been fairly ordinary if not for the fried capers. I can't remember where I first read about them, but it's something I've kept in the back of my mind just waiting for the perfect dish to garnish with little crispy flowery capers. Well... here it is. The capers really brought this from a little boring to very, very good.

Asparagus and Polenta with Fried Capers
serves 2

1 tbs brined capers
canola oil or other high-smoke-point oil for frying
1/2 lb asparagus
1/2 small yellow onion
1 large stalk green garlic, dark green parts removed (or 1-2 cloves of regular garlic)
1 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
1 2/3 cup chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1/3 cup instant polenta (or non-instant polenta, if you have it and don't mind lots of stirring)
1 tbs butter (optional)
3 tbs grated parmesean cheese

small skillet
large skillet
slotted spoon
knife and cutting board
cheese grater

Measure out the capers and blot dry with paper towels, being careful not to squish them. Pour 1/4" of oil into a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When the surface of the oil shimmers, drop in the capers. The oil will start to bubble so don't stand too close! After about 2 minutes, the outer layers of the capers will peel back so they look like little flowers. (My camera batteries died right as I started to cook, so I don't have a picture, but I found a good one here -- just scroll halfway down the page.) Remove the capers from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them aside to drain on paper towels.

To prepare the asparagus, snap off the woody bottoms and slice into 1" pieces. If your asparagus is really fresh, the woody bottoms might be non-existent. Peel and dice the onion and green garlic.

Heat olive oil in larger skillet over medium heat. Add the asparagus, onion, and green garlic with a pinch of salt. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the asparagus is tender. In the meantime, roughly chop the basil. Add it to the cooked vegetables and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but be careful not to overdo it with the salt, because the capers are like little salt-bombs.

While the asparagus cooks, you can start the polenta by heating stock or water in a saucepan. When it boils, add the polenta in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and continue to stir until the mixture thickens. With the instant polenta that I used, this took a minute or two, but there's a wide range of cooking times with non-instant polenta, so follow the directions for whatever type you're using. Honestly, I think the non-instant stuff tastes noticeably better, but it was about 90 degrees in my apartment and I didn't want to stand over the stove any longer than absolutely necessary.

Once the polenta is cooked, add the cheese and butter if you're using it. Scoop the polenta into bowls, top with the asparagus mixture, and sprinkle some fried capers on top.

[and pretend there is a tasty looking bowl of food pictured right here!]


Susan from Food Blogga said...

You're so right. Asparagus season is woefully short. Of course, this recipe is worth waiting for.

Joanna said...

Thanks, Susan! I'm still crossing my fingers for one last bunch at the market this weekend, but there's also so much new produce popping up each day that at least we don't have to be too broken up over the last of the asparagus. :)