Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's the season for...ASPARAGUS!

Asparagus is native to parts of Europe, northern Africa and eastern Asia. It grows wild in its native homes as well as in some parts of the United States and is widely cultivated as a vegetable. We eat the tender young shoots of the asparagus plant; left to mature it will grow tall with feathery, thin almost wiry leaves. If you see it growing wild you will most likely identify it from afar by its fragile and feathery appearance, often blowing in the wind along roadsides or by railroad tracks.

The tender shoots begin to appear in early spring, after some moisture and heat have given the roots the signal that it is safe to start their seasonal push. The roots will produce “spears” or shoots continually, until at the end of the season they will be allowed to grow to full maturity and nourish their roots in preparation for the winter and following spring.

I love asparagus and while I could see myself getting tiered of them if I eat too many, the short growing season and high price make asparagus always feel like somewhat of a treat. Don’t be fooled by those thin asparagus spears either, while they too are delicious the fat ones are often more flavorful!

I have two favorite ways to eat asparagus and I look foreword to them partially because of these much loved preparations. To prepare asparagus wash the spears well, then gently snap the hard base from the tender shoot. If you just bend or break the spear gently it should snap at its natural breaking point separating the tough part from the delicate top. From there, follow one of the following simple preparations:

ASPARAGUS WITH GARLIC OR LEMON AIOLI

Gently steam washed and “snapped” asparagus until tender and bright green. Remove from heat and set aside on a platter to cool. Serve asparagus cold with fresh home made aioli as a dipping sauce (see rosemary aioli, 3/28)! I often use plain salted aioli or add a garlic clove cut into a few pieces to the aioli as I whisk. The oils from the garlic give the aioli a mild garlic flare, without overpowering the sauce or the asparagus. I also sometimes add a small twist of lemon to my aioli at the end, perhaps just a tsp. or so, this also goes great with asparagus.

ASPARAGUS SLOW SAUTED IN OLIVE OIL

Slice washed and “snapped” asparagus into thirds on the diagonal, and in half if they are on the thicker side. Sauté the asparagus pieces in 1 Tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. They will take about 10 minutes to fully cook, you may want to cover them for just a minute or two but not for too long or they will begin to steam rather than sauté. Sautéd this way the flavors and sugars will develop and richen and the edges will become nicely browned. Before serving, toss with a bit of salt and fresh ground pepper.

It is amazing how fresh food prepared simply, but carefully can taste so good!

2 comments: