Asparagus makes any dish awesome

Did you know that May is National Asparagus Month? And did you also know that if I see fresh asparagus for sale at a farm stand I will buy it and then write a column about it? That’s because of all vegetables, asparagus is my favorite. I love it in anything.

For the easiest side dish ever I like to toss asparagus spears with a little olive oil and lemon pepper and either roast it in the oven or grill it till tender and a bit crispy on the ends. The results are absolutely awesome. Use asparagus in pasta or egg dishes, casseroles, soups, salads and appetizers for even more awesomeness.

And here are a few tips on buying and storing asparagus. Select asparagus with stalks that are firm and have heads that are full, tightly closed and not discolored.

Fresh asparagus will last for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, just wrap unwashed stalks in damp paper toweling and place in an unsealed plastic bag. When ready to use in your favorite recipe, or mine, rinse under cold running water to remove sand or dirt.

Chicken, Asparagus & Mushroom Bake

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

2 cups sliced fresh asparagus

Black pepper

1 (6-ounce) package cornbread stuffing mix

1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)

14 ounces chicken broth

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of asparagus soup, undiluted

Directions: Heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and garlic; cook and stir 3 minutes or till chicken is browned. Add mushrooms; cook and stir 2 minutes. Add asparagus and cook another 5 minutes or till asparagus is crisp-tender. Season with pepper. Transfer mixture to 2 1/2-quart casserole. Top with dry stuffing mix.

Add wine (if using) to skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Add broth and soup. Cook and stir till well blended. Pour broth mixture over stuffing mix and mix well.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 35 minutes, or till heated through and lightly browned. Serves 6.

Asparagus Leek Chowder

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

3 large leeks (white portion only), sliced

6 T. butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

Dash pepper

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups half-and-half cream

1 (11-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

1 T. chopped pimientos

Directions: In large saucepan sautÈ asparagus, mushrooms and leeks in butter 10 minutes or till tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper till blended.

Gradually stir in broth and cream. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes or till thickened. Stir in corn and pimientos and heat through. Serves 7.

Ham and Asparagus Penne Pasta

3 cups dry penne pasta

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup butter, cubed

1/2 pound fully cooked ham, cubed

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. salt

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions: Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions, or until al dente. Drain well, saving a bit of the cooking water. Set aside.

Heat butter in large skillet over medium heat. SautÈ asparagus, garlic and onion about 5 minutes or till asparagus is crisp-tender. Add ham, cream, salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cook 1 minute. Add cooked pasta to the pan, tossing to coat with sauce (if too thick add a ladle of pasta cooking water to pan.) Heat through and serve immediately. Top each serving with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Serves 8.