After months of foraging in my freezer for last year’s veggies, I made the joyful discovery of the first asparagus of the season making its way skyward. What could be better than a perennial vegetable that has the good sense to ripen in Spring! Simple, elegant, versatile asparagus! Now I will be eating asparagus until it stops producing big thick spears and is ready to go to flower.
Asparagus does well with salty, savory, and fresh flavors. If you have garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper on hand you can prepare asparagus in a variety of delicious ways. Asparagus also pairs well with flavors of lemon and vinegar, and is great with chives (for a little bite), lemon balm (taste the sunshine), dill (a fresh lift), and tarragon (a little zip and depth). It tastes great with eggs and egg based sauces. You can blanch it and wrap it in prosciutto, steam it and sprinkle it with balsamic vinegar and sesame seeds. Cook it in a soup. Put it in risotto. It is even delicious pickled (and eaten during the dregs of winter on your favorite antipasto platter). Fancy or simple, there are innumerable combinations and ways to enjoy asparagus. Here are my top 5 favorites when it is at its peak freshness:
5. Oven roasted – spread with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper – roast in your oven at 425 degrees until it reaches the level of caramelization you love – usually around 10 minutes.
4. Grilled – prepare the same as oven roasted, but toss on the grill and let it get just a bit charred to bring out a smoky sweetness.
3. Sautéed – use olive oil or butter, toss in some minced garlic, be liberal with your salt and pepper, and drizzle with lemon juice when done. Just a few minutes can bring out a bright green color and lovely crisp/tender meatiness to the spears.
2. Simply steamed – just needs water! Using some kind of steamer basket keeps the spears above the water and lets the steam do its work. The length of time to steam asparagus varies with the thickness of the spears and your personal taste. I tend to prefer my asparagus crisp, so I keep my steaming to 5 minutes or less. But some folks prefer asparagus that has been steamed closer to 10 minutes. Toss with your favorite toppings (see above for options) and serve. Steaming makes asparagus very tender.
1. Raw – freshly snapped out of the garden and directly from hand to mouth, just-picked asparagus is so flavorful even the most stubborn asparagus hater can be transformed. Children who visit my farm in springtime beg for this special treat.
If you don’t have your own asparagus patch, you can buy the freshest local, organic asparagus directly from area farmers at nearby farmers markets, farm stands, or you may even get a bunch in your CSA box. To find a farmer near you, you can check out the NOFA-NY Food and Farm Guide.