It's been a slow start to the growing season, but now we're in the swing of things at farmers markets around the region.
Beth Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers' Market Cookbook" discusses what's growing with Tom Crann of MPR News' All Things Considered.
CRANN: You've brought two of the stars of the spring harvest. First asparagus.
DOOLEY: Yes, Asparagus are related to ferns and if you plan to plant a few, don't harvest them all. The unharvested asparagus branch out and become feathery green. I bought asparagus ferns to decorate my first apartment.
Asparagus are perennials and require lots of patience to grow. It takes at least two years to establish a bed.
CRANN: How do you know when they're ready to harvest?
DOOLEY: Fat or thin -- that's the big debate. Delicate pencil-thin asparagus are the prettiest, the fat ones have more flavor because they are juicier and they can stand up to longer cooking.
I think people don't cook asparagus long enough. When we simply cook them until they're tender-crisp, they still taste relatively raw. When they're fully cooked (not mushy, but just past the tender crisp stage), their flavors soften a little and they taste less grassy and become a little silky. That's when they're best. Rather than steam or boil them, I like to cook them on the grill, roast them in the oven, or pan roast them. This way, they get a little brown or charred. Their natural sugars caramelize a little.
CRANN: Let's get a little more detail about the preparation.
DOOLEY: To grill, toss with olive oil, put over a hot grill and roll them so that they cook evenly. It will take about three to five minutes until they're tender.
To roast: Toss with a little olive oil to coat, put on a roasting pan (but don't allow them to touch) and roast in an oven at 400 degrees until they become slightly browned and are tender all the way through.
To pan roast: Film the bottom of a pan with a little oil and set over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the asparagus, toss to coat with the oil and then cover. This will catch the steam that comes off the asparagus and they'll cook in their own juices. Remove the cover and brown a little.
Another way to prepare asparagus is to wrap them in pancetta or bacon before roasting. Right before serving, drizzle them with lemon or orange juice and sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese.
When buying them, you'll need about half a pound, or about six to eight spears per person. When I bring them home, I cut off the bottom and stick them in a vase or glass jar like flowers.
If you have any left over, toss them into a soup pot, cover with stock, puree, thicken with a cream or butter and season with lemon juice, salt, pepper and thyme. They are also great cold with a mayonnaise -- just take your favorite mayo, add lemon or curry powder or both.
CRANN: How do we know when it's morel mushroom season?
DOOLEY: When the lilacs are the size of a mouse's ear, the morels come up.
They grow wild; you can't cultivate them. They appear after a soft spring rain. You find them near dead elm trees. With a pointed sponge-like head and hollow stem, they're easy to spot and probably the safest mushroom to hunt, but if in doubt, don't. There is a false morel that is pale, with a flatter head, and the stem is solid.
The safest and quickest place to hunt them is at the farmers markets.
CRANN: What's the best way to prepare them?
DOOLEY: The best way to eat them is in the woods over a camp fire in a cast-iron skillet with lots of butter or bacon grease.
To clean them, soak for a couple of minutes in salted water to remove any critters and debris. Pat dry with paper towels. Slice and fry in lots of butter until very tender and brown. Do not under cook them. They'll taste terrible and will be more difficult to digest. But when properly cooked until browned, about eight minutes or so, they're woodsy and fragrant and deeply mushroomy.