A Delicious Asparagus Appetizer for My Book Club!

For over a year my book club met on Zoom, but this month, with restrictions lifted in Massachusetts and all in our group fully vaccinated, we felt comfortable gathering in person!  I offered to host, and couldn’t wait to see my pals who love to snack while they discuss literature. Since we meet in the late afternoon, I decided that two savories and two desserts would be just right.

A no-bake lemon cheesecake drizzled with warm blueberry sauce (I’ll be including it in a cooking class next week!) plus dark chocolate and almond-studded short bread bars satisfied our sweet cravings. And, a block of feta roasted in a baking dish with multi-hued cherry tomatoes was offered warm with crispy baguette slices. A quick sesame and orange-scented mayo dip surrounded by blanched asparagus spears sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds rounded out the menu. After multiple hugs (it seemed almost surreal to see one another in person after months of gallery views on computer screens), I popped the cork on a bottle of Prosecco, and everyone indulged in food, while toasting our reunion.

The easiest recipe I prepared—those asparagus spears with the sesame orange mayo–turned out to be a favorite. Locally grown asparagus are in season where we live, so I picked up a couple of bunches and blanched them for a few minutes, then tossed them in sesame oil and sea salt. For the dip, I seasoned purchased mayonnaise with more toasted sesame oil along with fresh orange juice and zest, rice vinegar, and a hint of cayenne pepper.

Although I served the asparagus as an appetizer, they would also be tempting as a side dish. Pair them with grilled fish such as salmon or halibut, or try them with lamb chops, steaks, or chicken. They would be perfect to serve at your next in-person get- together!

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Sesame-Scented Asparagus Spears with Sesame and Orange Mayo

Sesame Orange Mayo
1 cup regular or reduced fat good quality mayonnaise (not nonfat) such as Hellman’s
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest plus more if desired
3 teaspoons fresh squeezed orange juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper plus an extra pinch if desired
1 teaspoon chopped chives

Kosher salt
2 pounds medium asparagus spears
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil plus extra if desired
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or other sea salt
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (See note.)

1 For the mayo, in a nonreactive bowl whisk the mayonnaise with the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, orange zest, orange juice, and cayenne pepper. Taste and add 1/4 teaspoon extra orange zest for a stronger citrus flavor, and an extra pinch of cayenne for more heat. Cover and refrigerate until needed. (The mayonnaise can be made 1 day ahead. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before using.) Makes about 1 cup.

2.For the asparagus, fill a large saucepan or deep-sided skillet set over medium high heat 2/3 full with water and add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Snap off 2 or more inches of the tough bases of the asparagus spears and discard. Trim ends of spears evenly. When water comes to a boil add any spears that are extra-large, and boil 1 minute. Then add remaining spears. Cook until bright green and just tender, only about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, and pat dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Place in a large mixing bowl.

3. Toss asparagus with sesame oil and sea salt. Taste and add a drizzle more of sesame oil if desired.

4. To serve, transfer the mayonnaise to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Set the bowl in the center of a serving tray or plate and garnish with asparagus spears. Sprinkle spears with sesame seeds. Dip spears in mayo to eat. Serves 5 to 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a side dish.

Note: To toast sesame seeds, place in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook, stirring, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2021




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