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Asparagus and Ricotta Tartines

Spring is an exciting time for a lover of green things. I can't decry winter's panoply of strange roots and fanciful squashes--by the time the weather gets cold, I'm ready for hearty preparations and "hibernation" food. But when March rolls around, I have to say that I've pretty much exhausted my supply of butternut squash recipes, and the storage apples aren't getting any sweeter or crisper.

Luckily, spring always arrives just when it's supposed to (my East Coast friends are undoubtedly rolling their eyes at this), and now we're awash in greenery. If the 30-minute gurus are to be believed, everyone is looking for quick recipes that they can make even while sleep-deprived, working two jobs, and carrying a toddler on their hip and a baby in a papoose. Well, whether this sounds like you or not, tender greens can be the backbone of any quickly made meal. In fact, springtime is possibly the best time to get dinner done in a hurry. Everything is still sweet and tender, all shoots and leaves.

When we were brainstorming posts to do this spring, asparagus was one of the first vegetables that came to mind. Most people steam asparagus, which is fine, but we love to roast it. Roasting intensifies flavors and helps tender foods retain some texture. If you preheat your oven while putting together the other components of a dish, roasting asparagus takes about 8 minutes. Hard to argue with that.

This is a really simple recipe. So simple that all the ingredients matter. Find good, crusty bread. Get decent goat cheese. Use fresh herbs. Otherwise, just use your taste buds to figure out when you've got it right. This recipe is just a guideline.

Other articles you might enjoy: Asparagus With Orange and Hazelnuts, Fettuccine With Salmon and Asparagus, Warm Barley, Mushroom, and Asparagus Salad

Asparagus and Ricotta Tartines
Makes enough for 6 to 8 large tartines

*Note: The roasted garlic is optional but fabulous. It takes a little time to roast a head of garlic, but the flavor payoff is well worth it! We recommend roasting a few heads at a time and storing them in your refrigerator for use in anything from salad dressings to dips to soups. To roast garlic, cut off the top of the head of garlic to expose the cloves, put the garlic in the middle of a square of doubled tin foil, douse the garlic with olive oil, and roast at 400°F until very tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Keep the garlic-infused oil for use in other dishes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

While the oven heats up, combine in a medium bowl:
           8 ounces whole milk ricotta
           4 ounces chèvre (fresh goat cheese)
           (Cloves squeezed from one head of roasted garlic)
           Zest of 2 medium lemons (about 1 tablespoon zest)
           1 tablespoon each roughly chopped parsley, chives, and fresh thyme
           Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and trim:
           1 bunch asparagus (about 3/4 to 1 pound)

Toss the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet with:
           Olive oil
           Salt and pepper

Roast until just tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.

To serve, spread the ricotta mixture on:
           Toasted crusty bread

Top with asparagus spears, then:
           Watercress or arugula

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Note: Save your leek tops for stock-making. If you don't think you'll be making stock soon enough to use them before they go bad, just bag them and freeze them for later.

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