SIMPLE SIDES: Roasted Asparagus & Tangerine
By Dennis Linden
In this country children consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Here’s a very simple, fun and delicious side dish recipe perfect for introducing the wonders of cooking to a very young child. The recipe is made with little fuss and not much else besides small hands for the prep from start to finish. In fact, those same small hands are all that is needed to enjoy the results!
The recipe takes advantage of the winter citrus season with one of the many tangerine varieties available in abundance at this time of year. I chose the Satsuma because the variety is seedless with loose skin, peels easily and is medium-small in size – a good fit for small hands! The Pixie Tangerine would also work wonderfully in this dish. The preparation of this ingredient can be accomplished by the youngest of sous chefs – peel, separate the fruit segments and then remove as much of the white pith from each segment as possible. BTW, going that one extra step of removing the pith is a culinary lesson unto itself as this task is being done purely for eye appeal. That is, the pith is perfectly edible and contains as much Vitamin C as the fruit itself! However, since this dish will be served family style on a platter displayed in the middle of the table, some attention needs to go into making the platter look as good as it tastes. There is nothing wrong with the pith; we are just trying to “clean up” the appearance a bit. Appearance is a part of the cooking experience and should be emphasized early and often.
Asparagus is quite powerful nutritionally. The veggie contains protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. It is also high in glutathione, a compound scientists believe can prevent some kinds of cancers. Plus, the vegetable is a rich source of antioxidants and folate, which can help slow aging and keep our brains healthy. For kids, it’s also a vegetable that one gets to eat with the hands! The thicker, whitish end of each stalk does need to be trimmed off. If your kitchen helper is just too young for a sharp knife, a pair of kitchen scissors are far safer. Or the supervising adult can do this task ahead and start your child off with trimmed asparagus.
My own mother’s limp and over-cooked asparagus is a memory of my childhood. Boiling the nutrients OUT of this vegetable makes no nutritional sense. Baking, grilling or roasting asparagus retains the nutrients and results in a pleasing, barely noticeable, fresh crunch to its texture. However, without an initial blanching, oven-cooked asparagus would be charred on the outside while still raw inside. The process of blanching is a great lesson for your kitchen helper; however, the process involves a pot of boiling water, then transferring the stalks out of that boiling cauldron into a cold bath. For a young novice cook close observation, rather than hands-on experience, would be prudent--especially if your helper needs a chair to stand at the stovetop!
Once these two components have been prepared, it is shake and bake time! That is, your helper puts the tangerine segments and asparagus spears into a large, zip-loc freezer bag; then carefully measures out and adds the lemon pepper, salt and olive oil to the bag. After confirming that all is zipped closed, let your sous chef shake-shake-shake to combine all! When the asparagus and tangerines are completely coated, your helper can spread the contents of the bag out on a cooking sheet covered with parchment paper.
After roasting until both the spears and segments are slightly caramelized and tender, transfer it all to a serving platter for the whole family to enjoy. Seeing a dish placed on the table that a young child can truly claim he or she made from start to finish with only a little help might be the spark that ignites culinary interest and a lifetime on good cooking. All from a simple plate of tangerines and asparagus – who would have thought?
Roasted Asparagus and Tangerines
1 lb. asparagus spears trimmed
2 Satsuma or Pixie Tangerines, peeled, segmented, pith removed
3 TBS olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp lemon pepper
3 oz. pecan pieces (garnish)
¼ cup sliced green scallions (garnish)
What the kids can do:
Trim the white base of the asparagus spears off. Peel, separate and clean tangerine segments of stringy white pith.
Place asparagus, tangerine segments, olive oil, lemon pepper and salt in a large sealable plastic freezer bag and shake until evenly coated.
Spread in an even layer on baking sheet, then hand off to supervising adult for oven roasting.
What the supervising adult should do:
Demonstrate the blanching process for the asparagus -- boil 3 minutes in very salty water, then stop cooking process with a cold water batch. Roast the mixture @ 400° for about 20 minutes, or until tender and both asparagus and citrus segment show a slight shrivel.
Plating:Serve family style on a platter sprinkled generously with scallion and pecan pieces.