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Chef's Hat: Think spring with asparagus

Asparagus is versatile and is known as the vegetable of spring

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Even though it seems like the winter of 2022-2023 does not want to leave the lakes area, spring really is right around the corner.

Each season is known for certain vegetables, and asparagus is known as the vegetable of spring. This green stalk is one of the first vegetables to make its appearance after the snow melts.

This versatile vegetable can be eaten raw, grilled, baked, steamed and it can even be pickled. Asparagus has a slightly earthy flavor, which has made it popular for thousands of years.

Green asparagus is what is commonly found in area stores, but the spears can also be purple or white. The purple variety tends to have a sweeter flavor than the green variety. White asparagus is popular in Europe, but it is not so easy to find in our area. If you can find white spears, they will have a milder and more delicate type flavor.

These spears are known as a superfood and one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables. Asparagus contains a large number of antioxidants. These spears are high in folic acid and they are a good source of potassium, fiber, thiamin and vitamins A, B6 and C.

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Research suggests that the health benefits from eating asparagus include reduced blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart attacks.

Asparagus can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked by steaming or cooked in boiling water just until it is crisp-tender. Throw on some salt and pepper or perhaps some cheese and you have a great side dish.

However, if plain asparagus is not your forte then it’s time to experiment.

Chicken stuffed asparagus is a fairly quick meal to prepare but elegant enough for special occasions. The trick with chicken is to cover it while it is baking so it cooks faster and holds in moisture, keeping the meat tender and juicy.

Note: If you need to thaw the chicken for this recipe, the best time to cut the chicken to create the pocket is when the chicken is only partially thawed.

There’s no end to the creative ways to use asparagus in dishes. Asparagus pairs well with almost all types of cheese. For a simple side dish, steam some asparagus and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top. For a fancier side dish, try the Asparagus with Cheese Sauce recipe.

Get out of the never-ending winter doldrums by zipping up a new dish with spring greens. Happy Eating!

Chicken Stuffed with Asparagus & Sun Dried Tomatoes

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Use asparagus, a springtime vegetable, to make Chicken Stuffed with Asparagus & Sun Dried Tomatoes
Donna Evans / Echo Journal Correspondent

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  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (approximately 1 1/4 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 12 asparagus spears, rinsed and trim off woody ends
  • 1 ounce sun dried tomatoes, chopped (or roasted red peppers)
  • 4-6 slices mozzarella or provolone cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the chicken breasts in half, length-wise, leaving one side uncut. This will create a pocket to stuff the asparagus, cheese and tomatoes.

Season the inside of the chicken breast with half of the Italian seasoning and the garlic powder. Place the cheese, asparagus, and tomatoes into the pocket of each piece of chicken. Fold the chicken over to enclose the filling.

Season the chicken with the remainder of the Italian seasoning and the paprika, and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the chicken. If the chicken flap won’t stay closed, use toothpicks to keep everything intact.

Heat a frying pan on the stove to medium heat. Place a tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add the chicken and fry it for 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook it for an additional 5 minutes on the other side. The chicken should be lightly browned.

Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer the chicken to the baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and check the internal temperature. The temperature should read 155 degrees. If not cooked through, leave the foil off and return the dish to the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the thermometer reaches 155 degrees. Remove the dish from the oven and let the chicken rest for 5 minutes. It should reach 160 degrees.

Remove chicken from the baking dish and place it on individual serving plates.

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Simple Asparagus with Cheese Sauce

  • 1 pound asparagus, trim off woody ends

For the Cheese Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (or combination of cheese, such as Swiss and cheddar)
  • Salt and pepper

Wash the asparagus in cold water to remove any grit or sand. Place a medium-sized saucepan on the stove. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Bring the water to boiling and add the asparagus. Cook for 3 minutes; asparagus should be crisp-tender, but not limp. Place the asparagus on a serving platter.

In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the flour and butter to make a roux. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly. After the milk is fully mixed in, whisk in the cheese. Remove from heat and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the asparagus and serve immediately.

Baked Asparagus

  • 2 pounds asparagus, wash and dry, and remove woody ends
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons jarred garlic
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet or tray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium-sized bowl, add the butter, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the asparagus and lightly toss. Then use your hands to press the breadcrumb mixture on the asparagus.

Place the asparagus on the baking sheet. Sprinkle any remaining breadcrumbs over the top of the asparagus. Place the sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. The asparagus will be slightly tender.

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Turn on the broiler and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown.

Remove the pan from the oven and place the asparagus on a serving platter. Serve immediately.

Donna Evans is an Echo Journal correspondent.

Opinion by Donna Evans
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