All good things come to an end; long weekends, good books, party nights, trips to Paris, seasonal produce. Well, produce never comes to any end at the grocery store but it is not the same once the markets close. And when the end comes, as bitter sweet as it is, a proper send off makes the transition easier.
After not eating asparagus in any shape or form nearly 10 months, the past 2 months we feasted on it in more iterations than I thought possible. We did it up- grilled, steamed, flash boiled, sauteed and roasted; under eggs, in salads, wrapped in prosciutto, blended in soup; cut into coins, sliced into sticks, peeled of its skin; with spinach, bacon, red onions, sesame seeds and more kinds of vinegar than I wanted to buy. It was fun, but the end is near both for the season and my own tastes.
There isn’t much asparagus left at the farmers market. This week in Boulder only one farm had it and Mr. Pasta-maker announced to me when we got home from the market that he is done with asparagus for the season. One more dish and that is it. Fine!
If it only has to be one more, it has to be the Asparagus and Tomato Bacon Stew. It is innovative, flavorful, and a great ending to a full season of asparagus. You will (hopefully) not find me using words like ‘innovative’ that often. While I like new and creative, ‘innovative’ just sounds pretentious. This dish is not pretentious but innovative just matched the way asparagus is cooked. It changed my view of asparagus and made even an asparagus non-believer, my friend Jen who took these lovely pictures, despite her un-fondness of the green spears.
Asparagus and Tomato Bacon Stew, an AdHoc-inspired recipe
Ingredients: 3 oz applewood smoked slab or thick sliced bacon cut into 1/4 inch lardons; 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped leeks; 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion; 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic; salt & pepper; 8 ripe roma tomatoes, peeled, cored, and quartered;, canola oil; 1 pound asparagus,trimmed, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces; 1/3 cup chicken stock.
In a heavy bottomed pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons water over medium heat and add the bacon. Reduce the heat to low and allow the bacon to render its fat for about 30 minutes. The water is supposed to keep the bacon from crisping so if it evaporates and the bacon begins to crisp (not just brown), add another tablespoon of water to prevent that.
Keep the bacon and about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot and reserve the rest. Place the pot over medium heat and add leeks, onion, garlic.
Stir to coat with the fat and add salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until soft and add the tomatoes. Bring to as simmer, and allow to cook for about 45 minutes stirring occasionally. Transfer half of the tomato mixture to a blender and puree.
Return it to the rest of the mixture and cook about 10 minutes longer until it thickens slightly- until it is no longer soupy and has a rich consistency.
Peel and cut the asparagus (if you didn’t already!).
[One word on that- peeling the asparagus makes it amazing. Really. It removes its stringiness and toughness and turns its texture into smooth, fresh, and a little crunchy. It takes a little longer to prep it this way but it is undoubtedly worth it. I actually might have gotten addicted to the idea of peeling it- I peeled it for the Asparagus Soup too the other day and found the texture of the soup to have improved. ]
In a large frying pan, heat the fat you reserved earlier over medium low heat. If you don’t have enough fat to coat the bottom of this pan with a thin film, add a little canola oil. Arrange as much of the asparagus as fits in a single layer in the pan and add 3 tablespoons of chicken stock. Season with salt and cook until the asparagus is tender but not limp. This should take 6-7 minutes. Remove the asparagus and cook the rest of it, if any left, the same way.
A few notes on my changes from the original recipe- I choose to keep the bacon cooking with everything else instead of removing it before cooking the onions, etc. The original recipe calls for a can of San Marzano tomatoes and not fresh romas. I tried both ways and the fresh tomatoes simply taste much better. My rendition of the asparagus is 2 inch sticks as opposed to whole spears as the recipe suggests. I found that after peeling the asparagus, it just looks weird long and bare of its skin and the 2 inch sticks are simply more visually appealing.
That said, to serve, place the cooked asparagus on plates and top with the tomato bacon stew. Depending on your appetite and the number of people you are serving, this can be a side dish (enough for 4) or a main course (enough for two). Either way, it will be delicious!
With that we say, goodbye asparagus- see you next year! The bacon tomato stew can stay- I use it over creamy polenta kind of like they serve at this place and this place, or over eggs, or even over pasta. Store it in your fridge for up to a week.
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