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Serving: IL
spring pizza with asparagus
ASPARAGUS: This Spring Pizza recipe is a fresh take on a longtime staple of farm gardens.

Spring on the end of your fork

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Who’s picking asparagus these days? Here’s a great new way to prepare it, plus a few more spring vegetable cooking tips.

Finally, the rain has stopped long enough for the sun to shine a day or two, so we can all play in the dirt. Not dirt in a big field like farmers, but enough dirt to plant my flowers, a few tomato and pepper plants, and plenty of fresh herbs. Getting in the dirt and pretending I’m a farmer is one of my favorite things to do, even if I don’t get a bumper crop.

Growing up on a farm and helping your mom with the garden — planting, growing and harvesting — becomes part of you. We began the gardening season planting spinach, radishes, lettuce and peas, and while we waited for those early-season crops, we hoped the asparagus patch would have enough stalks to harvest for Mother’s Day lunch. Mom usually made our asparagus served over toast with a bit of melted cheese on top. It was spring on the end of your fork.

Sometime around Memorial Day, we’d have an annual pilgrimage to a U-pick strawberry farm. For some reason, we weren’t successful growing our own. We’d go to our assigned area and pick enough to add to cereal, have strawberry shortcake and make one of Mom’s best desserts: a strawberry cake roll (usually saved for company).

If you’re looking for a great way to celebrate spring, just add spring’s first arrivals to your menus. Granted, I don’t have the green thumb my mom did, but farmers markets will be opening soon, and local grocery stores will be carrying “homegrown.” 

Our Springfield, Ill., Hy-Vee produce manager, Ronnie Minteer, received his first batch of Vidalia onions in the store the first week of May.

“They’re the sweetest onion grown in the U.S., named for the town of Vidalia, Ga.,” he says. “I love them. If you put them on the grill, they’ll caramelize and be even sweeter. I either wrap them in foil or cut them in half and place them right on the grill.”

The produce he displays up front varies with the seasons. Spring produce is rocking the racks now: sweet onions, sweet corn from California, asparagus, even a few homegrown tomatoes from Pike County, Ill.

“Salad sales fall when spring hits,” Minteer says. “People are over the January get-fit craze. Now it’s all about grilling. And berries are in full swing in the U.S., and soon in Illinois. This is the best time of the year to buy strawberries.”

So as spring finally makes its entrance, put strawberries, asparagus, sweet onions, sweet corn, green beans and summer squash on your menus. Not only does everything taste fresh, but it’s a healthy way to keep those January get-fit resolutions.

Here’s a recipe, adapted from Eating Well magazine, for a fresh take on asparagus.

Spring Pizza
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)
½ cup snipped fresh chives (from 1 bunch), divided
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound premade whole-wheat pizza dough or whole-wheat pita bread
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Position rack in lower third of oven. Place a pizza stone or large pizza pan on rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees F for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in small bowl; set aside.

Trim asparagus spears to about 6 inches long; slice any thicker stalks in half lengthwise. Toss in bowl with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ cup chives, salt and pepper.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to about 14-inch circle. Carefully remove pizza stone or pan from oven and set on heat-proof surface. Place dough on stone or pan and brush with reserved garlic-oil mixture. Arrange asparagus in circular pattern on dough with tips facing out. Top with cheese and remaining chives.

Carefully return stone or pan to oven and bake on lower rack until crispy and golden and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes. Serves 5.

Per serving: 368 calories, 14 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrates, 20 grams fat, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 3 grams fiber, 536 milligrams sodium.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at charfarg@aol.com.

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