There’s something satisfying about bringing the year full circle in the continuum of field, kitchen and pantry. Here, the combination of asparagus techniques embodies my approach to food: favor local and seasonal produce, grow or pick it yourself when possible, stock the pantry and treat it as a resource, and balance flavors, colors, and textures in your meals.
I’ve discovered that combining pickled vegetables with their fresh counterparts creates a tasty awakening of the senses. I made the pickled asparagus last year, and am using up the remaining jars now as I prepare to re-stock. Spiked with tarragon, it adds a piquant note to the almost unctuous asparagus, which I picked myself at a local farm and roasted in a 400-degree oven sprinkled with a little olive oil. I didn’t need salt since the pickled asparagus has plenty.
Last year’s revelation in pickling asparagus was to use the lower parts of the stalks, which are more consistent in texture and more reliably pickled than the tips. They also fit the jars nicely and don’t have as much tendency to float. Last year, I made them with whole Indian spices (cumin, coriander, allspice) that I dry toasted in a skillet and with tarragon. Dill would work too, but I rather favor the tarragon given how much of it I have growing in pots. I serve the asparagus whole as a pickle alongside sandwiches, and also slice it small and use it instead of capers on fish and chicken. I now also like it with other vegetables.
The little hard-boiled quail eggs balance out the flavors and textures of the roasted and pickled asparagus. They also come from a local farm. Oh I know, how many people can honestly say, “Honey, I’d like some quail eggs so I’m running over to the local quail farm,” or something like that? We do live in a pretty special area. To hard-boil quail eggs, place them in a pot of cool water and bring it to a boil. Boil gently for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Cool quickly under very cold water.
Asparagus Pickled with Tarragon (yields four or five 4-oz jars)
Asparagus stalk bottoms, trimmed to fit about 3/4 inch from the top of jar, in enough quantity to fit the number of jars x 1.25 (they shrink when cooked)
1 c water
1 tbsp salt
1 c white or white wine vinegar (or homemade tarragon vinegar)
Several sprigs of tarragon (omit or diminish if using tarragon vinegar)
Prepare the jars and the water bath canner.
Prepare a large pot with ice water.
Fill a large shallow pan with water and bring to a boil. Separate the asparagus into batches according to thickness. Plunge each batch of asparagus into the boiling water for about a minute. Do not overcook. Plunge the cooked asparagus into ice water and drain immediately.
Pack the asparagus and sprigs of tarragon into the warm jars, relatively tightly.
Stir the salt into 1 cup of water and cook at medium heat until the salt dissolves. Add the vinegar, bringing the liquid just to a boil. Immediately pour over the jarred asparagus to cover, leaving ½-inch headspace. Insert a chopstick gently between the asparagus stalks to release any air bubbles.
Clean the rims, cap the jars and place in a water bath canner. Process for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Remove the canner’s lid, turn off the heat and let sit for five minutes before removing the jars to rest undisturbed until cool.
Cure for 3-4 months before testing for taste. If the jars don’t seal or if the liquid siphons and/or asparagus floats in the head space, refrigerate them. Either way, the pickles will keep for about a year.