May 04 2011

Fresh from the Market: Asparagus

Asparagus is here!  Asparagus is here!  This phrase is not only ricocheting around my brain, it’s being shared on twitter, various blogs and social media outlets, and in person.  If ramps are like the first person in a parade (you know-the one with the jaunty step and a cane), asparagus is most decidedly the Grand Marshall of that parade.

A few weekends ago, I was wandering around the Portland Farmers Market, jealously snapping pictures of asparagus, with full knowledge that I could neither buy nor eat any, unless we wanted to eat raw asparagus in our hotel room.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="573" caption="at the PDX farmers market"][/caption]

But luckily, the weekend we returned to Brooklyn coincided with the first weekend asparagus was at the farmers market.  As we strolled up the hill to Grand Army Plaza, I immediately saw row upon row of asparagus at the just-returned Kernan Farm’s stand.  Asparagus doesn’t stick around forever, so we grabbed about 4 pounds worth and prepared it in three different ways last weekend (at least one recipe is for a future post).



A member of the lily family, when we eat asparagus we’re actually eating the young shoots of the plant.  You may be familiar with the Jersey Giant variety or other green varieties of asparagus, but the plant actually grows in over 300 different species, including purple and white varieties. (Only 20 varieties are actually edible, though.)

Flavor Profile:

Don’t even bother with out of season asparagus.  The limp, bland stalks taste nothing like the sweet, snappy stalks of local, spring asparagus.  It doesn’t take much work to draw out asparagus’ flavor—simply steam in season asparagus for 5-6 minutes, enough for the stems to be tender and not soggy.

Asparagus tastes buttery and herbal, but roasting it brings out a unique earthy flavor.

In the Kitchen:

As with any food you’re selecting, avoid wrinkled, dried out stalks.  You want to select vibrant, bursting-with-color stems.  Remember:  asparagus doesn’t keep long.  When we bought our 4 pounds, we knew that we had to use it that same weekend.

If you can’t cook with it the day you buy it, you can store asparagus in your refrigerator for up to 2 days in a plastic bag, with a wet paper towel at the bottom of the bunch. When you purchase your stalks, try to go home with a plan or at least a commitment to find a way to cook with it as soon as possible.

Before cooking, make sure to discard the woody ends: bend the asparagus where each stem naturally snaps.  Asparagus’ flavor is enhanced with lemon, cheese, pesto, and onions.

For some quick ideas, be sure to click here for Mark Bittman’s most recent article on  12 different ways to quickly and creatively cook with asparagus—we cooked some with the brown butter pairing and it was delightful.

Growing Season:

Depending on what region you live in, you’ll find asparagus at the market from mid-late April through the early Summer.  Asparagus is planted in a trench a month before the last frost, and is commonly planted near tomatoes (a natural pest repellant).  Farmers harvest asparagus when the stalks are 6-8 inches tall.

Interesting Links:

Asparagus was the starter at the recent Royal Wedding (and the farmer was sworn to secrecy in the weeks leading up to the wedding!)

Thirteen plus years of Asparagus recipes:  Bittman travels back to 1998 and shares asparagus recipes he’s made each year since

Your Halloween costume next year?!

As mentioned above, we cooked three different asparagus recipes this weekend.  Check back soon for a delicious breakfast dish!

Sources: Wikipedia, The Produce Bible, WH Foods