Spring fling: Beer, cheer and asparagus are here

I love asparagus. It's probably my favorite vegetable, and the fact that I can't get it fresh all year long makes it that much more alluring.

So when I walked into In Season Local Market the other day and found the entire produce cooler packed full of the stalky vegetable for the first time this year, it was a fantastic sight. The stalks were beautiful and bright green, their color symbolic of the arrival of spring.

In Season gets its asparagus from Kiowa Valley Organics, a certified organic farm about an hour east of Denver. In addition to asparagus (available from April to June) and an array of other produce, it also sells grass-fed beef, which the market has been hawking for twenty years.

I grabbed a couple bundles of the fresh stuff, as well as a jar of pickled asparagus, mainly because I was curious and thought it might be a nice contrast to the fresh stalks. I also grabbed some brats, since my girlfriend has been complaining that I don't cook enough meat, before rushing out the door.

This time of year also sees the release of Double Pilsner from Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, one of my favorite seasonal beers. So I picked up a four-pack to go with the budding meal. A strong German pilsner, it seemed like the perfect pairing with the unique earthiness of the asparagus.

I decided to make asparagus and beer brat sandwiches, along with a pickled asparagus pesto spread. I also had a hunk of soft ripened goat cheese from Avalanche Goat Dairy in the fridge that I thought would melt over everything nicely.

The sloppy sandwiches ended up being badass; the spicy bitterness of the pickled and sautéed asparagus stood up to the fatty sweetness of the beer brat and the creamy cheese. And the Double Pilsner (faintly reminiscent in the brat) paired perfectly with the meal. Its fruity notes bolstered the earthy asparagus while letting the other ingredients do their thing.

Here's the recipe:

½ onion, chopped 2 pints of beer (I used the Double Pilsner) 4 links German pork sausage ½ cup minced pickled asparagus 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 bundles fresh asparagus, about 1-inch of the bottoms chopped off 3 tablespoons butter 1 loaf of good bread 8 ounces of a good melting cheese, rind removed (I highly recommend the Lamborn Bloomers from Avalanche Goat dairy -- a phenomenal cheese) Salt, pepper and olive oil

1. Heat up some olive oil in a large nonstick skillet, add a handful of asparagus, a judicious pinch or two of salt, and toss until al dente. Set aside. 2. In a large pot, sauté the onions in one tablespoon of butter for about 10 minutes on medium heat, or until soft. Add brats and beer and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and poach the brats are plump. Cover and remove from heat. 3. Using a pestle and mortar, mash the pickled asparagus into a paste. 4. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of olive oil, about ¼ cup of the beer-poaching liquid, the asparagus paste and a pinch of salt until thoroughly emulsified. 5. Toss the remaining fresh asparagus with salt and cook over high heat until the stalks are al dente. Cut the pieces in half and then slice them in half lengthwise. 6. Remove brats from beer and slice them in half, also lengthwise. 7. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet and sear each side of the brats until they're golden brown. 8. Dress toasted slices of bread with pickled asparagus spread and pile high with grilled asparagus slices. Top with a brat and cheese.

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