I just can’t get enough of asparagus when it first comes into season! By the end of May I am looking for ways to preserve it for the rest of the year. Out of season asparagus is often shipped long distances and can be dry and lacking in that wonderful grassy flavor (not to mention enormously expensive and environmentally irresponsible). I want to take full advantage of the long spring season, there are so many ways of serving it. Have you ever thought of combining different cooking methods with the same vegetable? The combination of fresh asparagus and pickled ones in an inspiration. Think thinly sliced or finely chopped pickled spears combined with sour cream (or even better, creme fraiche) as a sauce for fresh asparagus cooked on the grill. You could add equal parts mayonnaise if you want. Serving it as a sauce elevates the vegetable to a new level. What about putting a poached egg on top, serving all on top of a slice of crisp toast? I could see a slice of crisped prosciutto somewhere in there as well or even a slice meaty bacon. Yum!
I am getting ahead of myself because a simple platter of grilled or roast asparagus with pickled asparagus sauce is delicious.
But first you need the pickled asparagus. I have found jars in better grocery stores but they are the tiny grassy spears, and are quite costly. It is far easier to pickle your own when asparagus is in season.
For pickling you can use either thin or thicker spears, peel the ends of the thicker ones first. if you haven’t done this before you can find the tips here. I found large mouth quart canning jars so I could pickle the longest spears possible. But you can cut them into smaller pieces and use pint jars if that is all you have. Either way pack them with the tips up to preserve the shape as much as possible.
Start with 4 pounds of asparagus to ensure enough for 3 quarts. I purchased 3 large bunches, thinking it would be enough (it looked like an enormous amount) and was short a 1 quart container. You’ll need about 16 cups (hard to measure). At the end I had one unused sterile quart container and extra pickling solution…what to do? I found a head of celery in the fridge and remembered reading somewhere about the joys of pickled celery. Why not? Now I have a jar of pickled celery and will let you know how I like it.
If you have to buy your asparagus a day or two ahead, store them like flowers with the ends in cool water.
For 4 quarts:
- 6 1/2 cups of white wine or champagne vinegar
- 3 1/2 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 4 teaspoons of fennel seeds
- 8 sprigs of fresh fennel fronds if available
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 16 cups of asparagus or 4 pounds
- First bring the water in your canning jar to a boil. I find this takes the longest and always start it at the very beginning of the canning process. You can use the water to scald 4 quart canning jars. Or, I find it easier to run them through the dishwasher, then place them open side down on a clean dishtowel until you are ready to fill them.
- In a dry small skillet, toast the fennel seeds on medium heat until they are turning golden brown and aromatic (about 1 minute). Remove and place on a plate to cool.
- Prepare the asparagus by measuring the length you will need for your jars, snap and peel the ends once the appropriate size. You really only need to peel the ends of medium or large asparagus stalks.
- Bring a large skillet of water to a boil. You will use this to blanch the asparagus. While it is coming to a boil, put a large bowl of ice water in the sink. Once it comes to a boil, add the asparagus in batches. Set a timer for 1 minute, then remove the stalks from the boiling water and drop them into the ice bath to cool quickly. Once cool, remove them to a clean dishtowel lined tray. Repeat as necessary until they are all blanched.
- In a pot bring the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a boil. This is your brine. Keep hot.
- In a small pot soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the seal.
- Now you are ready. Turn the jars right side up and add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 bay leaf, and 2 garlic halves to each jar. Pack the asparagus in tightly, tips up.
- Carefully pour the hot brine over the asparagus in the jars. Leave about 1 inch of head space. Check for air pockets and add more liquid if needed. Wipe the rims, add the lids and screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
- Place the jars in the pot with the lid, add water to cover the jars (by about an inch if possible). Bring the water back to boil, cover, and process for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars for a few minutes. Remove the jars and let cool completely. Check to make sure the lid pops in, indicating proper canning.
And here is the lone jar of pickled celery.
The inspiration for this recipe came from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy. It is probably one of my most used books on preserving.
I think I will take this as part of my recipe for asparagus with pickle sauce to the party at Fiesta Friday #226, it will be lovely as part of the buffet. You can find the link to Angie’s Fiesta Friday blog here. Follow the listed links at the bottom to any of the blogs that interest you. Angie’s cohost this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.
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