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Asparagus Spears

By Judith Hausman, Urban Farm Contributer

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Asparagus spears

Courtesy Charles Diaz

Eat these beautiful asparagus spears simply steamed, or dress them up fancy.

Along with rhubarb and ramps, asparagus is in full-blown season here. Those gardeners who have patiently waited through three seasons of feathery ferns are rewarded by lots of fat purple spears that grow so oddly, pushing straight up from the beds, and endure for years when well-established.

It’s my private ritual to harvest two wild spears, which grow in an unlikely spot along a chain link fence. But that’s nowhere near enough. Apparently, my neighbors feel the same way. At the farmers market last weekend, a grower told me that his 60 bunches sold out by 10:30 a.m.

Some people favor the pale, lavender-white asparagus spears, so popular in Europe and now grown domestically. Some like the thickest pieces and when they’re very fresh and juicy, like now. (The fat ones are just as flavorful as the thin to my mind.) I prefer these thinnest green asparagus spears. I was recently served one lightly pickled, skinny spear as the garnish of a well-spiked Bloody Mary. Great idea!

Frankly, I don’t think you need much of a recipe to prepare these delicacies. If you don’t already know it, the trick to trimming them is to bend the spears until the woody end breaks off at the tender point. Then just steam the spears in one layer in a large sauté pan, in or over an inch of water, until they are toothsome, and season with salt, fresh pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. I don’t even need butter on them.

Asparagus spears are also deliciously and easily roasted: Roll in olive oil, then roast 10 minutes or so in a 400-degree-Fahrenheit oven, turning them over once. Afterward, you can dress them with a mustard vinaigrette or, as my friend does, a soy-mint-sesame-seed combo. Other delicious dress-ups for asparagus spears are sprinkled fresh goat cheese, chopped egg and dill, or diced, sautéed garlic mixed with parsley, capers and anchovies.

If you want to celebrate asparagus with more elaborate treatment, it responds beautifully, as well. Mixed with eggs, cream and Gruyere, asparagus becomes a quiche filling. With béarnaise or other cream sauces, it somehow becomes old-fashioned and richly formal. Chopped, it can delicately flavor a spring risotto: Add 2-inch, uncooked pieces to the rice with white wine and good Parmesan. Or you can impress guests by rolling each spear carefully in puff-pastry dough or filo leaves and baking the ”cigars.” 

For an elegant and healthy entree, lay white-fish filets, such as sole or flounder, in a baking dish on top of a layer of asparagus. Then moisten the filets with some butter and a sprinkle of white wine. Bake it all at 375 degrees, covered for 10 minutes and an additional three or four minutes, uncovered. Before serving, strew the fish with chopped dill, chives or tarragon. Serve with buttered new potatoes.

Asparagus is a strong example of the vibrancy of a locally grown treasure. Yes, we can find it year-round from far-away places, but for a brief, urgent period, asparagus pokes up boldly in the Hudson Valley, in all their purple-highlighted, matte-green glory, juicy with their unique flavor.

Read more of The Hungry Locavore »

Give us your opinion on Asparagus Spears.
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I'm looking forward to getting started with Asparagus. I'd love it if you could write more on harvesting and maybe show more pics on how they grow! Thanks!
Chuck, Reno, NV
Posted: 1/16/2012 3:51:23 AM
How nice, David, that you don't let them go to waste. I love derelict patches & orchards...ever find any morels on the way?
Judy, South Salem, NY
Posted: 5/27/2011 8:24:15 AM
Judy, Here in Nebraska, asparagus can be found quite often in the wild. The most likely place to find asparagus is along old railroad track beds. I don't know why but it just seems to like to grow there. Another place to forage for asparagus is on old derelict long forgotten homestead places. With the advent of large farming practices here the original homestead places just fall into disrepair. Along with asparagus these homestead places most likely will have a patch of rhubarb as well. Our asparagus time is over now. Many times fruit trees and berry patches will be near by. Always permission is granted from farmers to forage these areas and as for old railroad beds, just try to get there first.

Have a great asparagus day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 5/26/2011 6:14:23 AM

About the Blogger

Judith Hausman

Judith Hausman
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City 'burbs.

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