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Jun 21, 2011

asparagus and chocolate...

The title of this post might lead you to believe that you are about to be lulled to sleep by the reading of my grocery list... never fear, though if that's your thing, you might want to check out this book.

These just happen to be what I just purchased at the grocery, and while devouring the chocolate for chocolate's sake, I'll tell you why the asparagus is important.

At the beginning of the year, I decided one of my re-inspirations would be to study one herb or spice each season (seasons happen to be one of the most important organizational tools my mind has...) - I mean really study it - get to know it, make friends with it, make meals out of it (I mean... isn't that what you do with your friends??), and altogethery know it.

Well... welcome to One-of-Laura's-Big-Challenges-in-Life-101: Follow-Through. It was mid-April before I decided tarragon would be my spring study, and despite that less than punctual start, my Martha Stewart day dreams still had me speaking perfect tarragonese by today, the first day of my next study, and the longest day of the year. Alas, I have only used it once while cooking, though I am proud to say two tarragon twins are happily growing in the garden, so maybe more of that as summer progresses.

Texas tarragon in my New York garden
Here's what I have learned, and would love to share:

Tarragon is related to anise. I'll admit when I opened the bottle from the market and had my first tarragon experience (trying for most of the five senses, being the "good" little studier I am), the smell made me consider switching this project mid-stream to something I thought I might like a little better. However, upon using it, I've discovered it's a bit of a wallflower as herbs go - I haven't found a recipe yet that actually let's it star in the show - maybe it's subtleness just doesn't allow for that...

Currently, aside from using myriad and ponderous internet sources, I have two books with which to consult on things food (okay, probably more - but these are the ones I'm into right now): Jamie Oliver says tarragon goes well with chicken, eggs, tomatoes and potatoes. That's about all he has to say, though you have to give him credit as the book is meant to "teach me to cook", and that knowledge will certainly take up a lot more space than an essay on tarragon would allow. The second book is a bit more up my alley of study - revealing that it is a member of the daisy family (whoda thunk), and has roots (sometimes literally) in Russia. The author suggests that tarragon, even more so than other herbs, does not keep its flavor well - perhaps why I assigned it "wallflower" status. She claims it's a rock star for flavoring vinegar and is the principle seasoning ingredient in tartar (another thing I don't know much about...). So there you have my truly limited and sadly stunted study. I promise the next one will be better!

The one recipe I have tried it with follows. Note that this makes a lot of "sauce", but I found it delicious in topping potatoes - thanks J.O.

please accept my asparagus photo shoot as a woefully poor substitute for pictures of the finished recipe below

Lemon-Tarragon Asparagus

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon lemon rind

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons chopped tarragon

Cook asparagus in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon ingredients and tarragon, then rest of ingredients; cook 3 minutes. Drizzle tarragon mixture over asparagus; toss gently to coat. (Adapted from Cooking Light, April 2011 issue.)