Dear Mary Beth: I look forward to the local asparagus coming to the farms and markets in our area. I’m wondering if asparagus can be eaten raw? And, if so, what kind of recipes would you suggest?

Answer: You certainly can eat asparagus raw. It’s great in salads and as a vegetable dipper. I am sharing a recipe that shaves the raw stalks with a vegetable peeler for a unique presentation. Be sure to use large stalks and don’t attempt this recipe with the pencil-thin imported asparagus from the grocery store. Enjoy the local season!

Lemony Asparagus Ribbon Salad

1-pound farm-fresh asparagus (large meaty stalks)

Shredded Parmesan cheese

Dressing:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon minced shallot

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Do not remove woody ends from asparagus. Hold each stalk from the woody end. Using a vegetable peeler, preferably a “Y”-shaped style, run the peeler down the stalk starting at the woody end and drawing down to the tip to make thin slices or ribbons. Discard ends. Place ribbons in a shallow bowl or on a large platter.

2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with screw top lid. Shake until well combined. Pour the desired amount of dressing over the asparagus and toss well to coat.

3. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Dear Mary Beth: I would like to make my own peanut butter so I can avoid all the sugar that is added to the store-bought varieties. I tried making it from dry roasted peanuts and canola oil but it was not at all a creamy butter. Should I have used roasted cocktail peanuts?

Answer: Yes, cocktail peanuts have just the right oil in them to be able to blend peanuts into butter. I managed the test kitchen for the Oster Appliance Company and made a whole lot of peanut butter in the blender. Simply add 1-1/2 cups roasted salted peanuts into the blender. Cover and process at a high speed until butter is reached. You may need to stop the blender and stir a few times to redistribute the blended peanuts with the chopped peanuts. The process does take a few minutes depending on your blender, but the fresh taste and lack of additives and preservatives is well worth it. To make the butter chunky, simply add a few whole peanuts to the blended mixture and pulse on and off to chops them to the desired consistency.

The mixture will be thick, so you might find it easier to remove the butter from the bottom of the blender container into a bowl. Then scrape the butter that remains around the blades with a rubber spatula. If your blender does not have a removable bottom, I would not use it to make peanut butter as it is far too difficult to remove the thick butter. Because the peanut butter has no preservatives, you will want to refrigerate it.

Dear Mary Beth: I traveled to Tuscany and enjoyed eggs poached in a light tomato sauce that was served over crusty bread. I’d like to make this at home. Any tips?

Answer: Poaching eggs in a flavored tomato sauce or a marinara is really very easy. Actually, it is easier than poaching eggs in water and so much more flavorful. There are many versions of this simple meal originating from Italy, Spain and the well-known egg dish, Shakshouka, from the Middle East. A quick search on the internet will give you a host of recipes to choose from. Serve your poached eggs and sauce over garlic toast, plain toast, tortillas, polenta or even grits. I’m sharing a very easy Italian Poached Eggs recipe that will get you started.

Italian Poached Eggs

2 cups marinara or pasta sauce

8 large eggs

8 slices crusty bread or English muffins, toasted

Parmesan cheese

Fresh Basil leaves and/or fresh Italian parsley

1. In a skillet, heat the marinara or sauce to a simmer. Carefully slide the eggs into the sauce, one at a time. Cover and simmer until the eggs are cooked to the desired doneness, about 3-5 minutes.

2. With a large spoon, remove the eggs and place on the bread or English muffin; top with additional sauce. Sprinkle with grated or shaved cheese, torn basil and/or parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Mary Beth Jung is a Hendersonville resident. She is a freelance food writer, recipe developer, cookbook author and the founding food editor of Taste of Home magazine. Email your culinary questions to Mary Beth at mb_jung@yahoo.com for this monthly column.