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Asparagus with Orange Butter
A spring side with California flair from the California Heritage Cookbook
Ok, recipe lovers, I couldn’t help myself—I had to share one more recipe from the California Heritage Cookbook. As I wrote in the Stained Page newsletter last week, this book was created by the Junior League of Pasadena in 1976 but many of the recipes still feel fresh and relevant today. (Check out my deep dive into the book, and the benefits of a community cookbook approach in a place like California, for more details.) This dish also pairs really well with the spaghetti with crab sauce from the same book, which I shared last week. I’ve also pulled Mr. Espresso’s fantastic recipe for horchata cold brew out from the archives since it feels like the start of iced coffee season has finally arrived. Hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do!
Asparagus with Orange Butter
This recipe combines two classic California spring flavors in a really simple but appealing way. The asparagus is cooked very plainly, but the addition of the butter, made with both fresh orange juice and orange zest, makes it feel decadent. In the original recipe, the authors add clarifying the butter as a recipe step. I’ve included that step here, too (with a bit more explanation than they had), but, really, you could just use ghee in place of the butter here (an option cooks in the ‘70s didn’t have easy access to) and save yourself some time and effort. I’ve also adapted the rest of the recipe slightly, to clarify the steps and include contemporary tools, like a microplane zester.
Serves 2-4 as a side
1½ pounds fresh asparagus
2 medium oranges
6 tablespoons butter (or ghee)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Gently bend the asparagus spears to snap off the woody bottom parts, then peel the lower part of the stalks. Lay the asparagus spears in a large skillet.
Peel or supreme 1 orange and cut it crosswise into thin rounds. Zest the remaining orange with a microplane or the finest side of a box grater and set the zest aside. Extract the juice from the zested orange.
In a medium pot (or a kettle) bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
While the water is boiling, clarify the butter (skip this step if using ghee): Melt the butter in a small saucepan over high heat and let it come to a boil. When it starts to foam, immediately turn the heat down to medium-low, so it doesn’t bubble over, and cook the liquid until most of the foam has disappeared and the milk solids at the bottom of the pot are just beginning to brown. Remove the butter from the heat and strain it through very fine mesh (like a skimmer) or cheesecloth. Set the liquid butter aside and cover to keep warm.
When the water comes to a boil, pour enough over the asparagus to completely submerge the spears. Add the salt, and bring the water and asparagus to a boil over high heat. Cook the asparagus until tender, about 8 minutes (depending on the size of the spears)
While the asparagus is cooking, put the warm butter, the orange zest, and ¼ cup of the orange juice in a small pot and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture has slightly reduced and thickened, about 6 minutes.
When the asparagus is tender, remove it from the skillet with tongs and arrange it on a platter. Cover it with the hot orange sauce, grind on a little pepper, and arrange the orange slices on top of everything. Serve immediately.
From the Archives
This week’s warm weather means it’s the start of iced coffee season for many of us—and the perfect time to revisit my interview with Luigi Di Ruocco of Mr. Espresso and his family’s great recipe for horchata cold brew. When I don’t have time to make my own horchata, I make this drink with any of the amazing versions made by local Mexican restaurants.
Other California Recipes to Cook This Week
For more warm-weather cooking inspiration, check out the LA Times’ piece about DIY hand rolls, Sunset Magazine’s collection of spring salads, Edible Marin & Wine Country’s cauliflower risotto with spring vegetables, and the Orange County Register’s recipe for lentil salad with grapes and herbs.
Photos: Georgia Freedman, Josh Wand