- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Asparagus is such an elegant vegetable that I usually serve it plain to show off its sleek and appealing looks.

My ideal spring brunch is steamed asparagus topped with smoked salmon or thin slices of prosciutto and plenty of cracked pepper. The arrangement is half entree, half decorative centerpiece.

Don’t shortchange asparagus as a mere vegetable, however. Asparagus can magically transform many simple recipes into works of culinary genius, or at least reward you handsomely for a little preparation time.

For example, instead of serving plain rice or noodles as a side dish, add color and flavor with asparagus. Cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces and steam or simmer in a small amount of water until tender. Stir the asparagus into cooked rice or noodles and add a pat of butter and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

If scrambled eggs are your Sunday-morning fare, include cooked, chopped asparagus and a little grated Parmesan cheese in the mix. Now you have a brunch bonanza.

Chowder, always a great way to feature vegetables, tastes even better when you add asparagus. This easy and delicious recipe for two can be served as a brunch or light dinner entree. For a dinner menu, include hot rolls and a tomato-and-basil salad.

Asparagus chowder

2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes

Salt

2 cups chopped asparagus

4 strips bacon, diced

1 large shallot, minced

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend (see note)

1 tablespoon minced scallion, green part only

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place potatoes in a pot with salted water to cover. Bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until potatoes are partially tender. Add asparagus and cook 5 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Drain well and set aside.

Fry bacon in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp. Scoop out bacon bits and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings. Add shallot and saute over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Stir in flour and mix to a paste.

Stir in chicken broth, a little at a time, mixing to form a slightly thickened broth. Stir in cream and cheese. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until cheese melts. Do not allow to boil. Stir in reserved vegetables, bacon, scallion, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

Note: You’ll find packages of shredded cheese blend in the supermarket dairy case. If not available, use shredded fontina cheese or a combination of fontina and Parmesan cheeses.

Bev Bennett is the author of ?30 Minute Meals for Dummies? (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

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