Asparagus. It’s a funny word, all sharp angles and push, as are the spears that break through the ground crust at parade ground attention. The only asparagus encountered when I was growing up came from flavor-annihilating cans that produced either soggy, wrinkled stalks of the darkest green or Cream of Asparagus soup. Neither was tempting. Occasionally I read of the glories of asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, touted as a French luxury. The 1950s America I knew was not a threat to French culinary dominance. What little I knew and how wonderfully it all changed. Lucky for me not too many years went by before a friend insisted that I try fresh, steamed asparagus dusted with Parmesan cheese. Is there anyone as devout as a convert?
The Egyptians domesticated asparagus and then went so far as to decorate their hieroglyphics with it. Its cultivation spread through Greece and Italy where it was prized by Roman emperors to the extent that they maintained a fleet of special ships to transport asparagus from around the Mediterranean to Rome. A byproduct of their quest for world domination, Romans planted asparagus across Europe all the way to Britain. The world’s oldest cookbook, the Roman Apicius, contains recipes for the crowned stalk member of the prolific lily family. It was brought to America in the 19th century by a Dutch farmer. Good thing.
The arrival of spring brings asparagus’ availability in local markets. There are three colors to choose from, the dominant green, the expensive and labor intensive white and, recently, the purple. The white stalks, as they emerge from the ground, are continuously covered with dirt or mulch to keep the sun from triggering the greening process. Some say the white is less bitter than the green, though others think it takes mildness to an unjustifiable extreme, especially given the extra effort and expense. The purple is exotic, pretty and as good as the green. It can make a plate very dramatic indeed. Though one could wonder exactly why are we tinkering with perfection.
Honestly, how often does a delicious, low calorie, no fat, no cholesterol treat that is high in vitamin C, antioxidants, folate and potassium appear on the table’s horizon? Our website has many asparagus recipes including Chicken with Asparagus, Zucchini and Basmati Rice, Farrotto with Ramps, Fiddlehead Ferns and Asparagus and Asparagus, Bok Choy and Rice Salad. For today we are offering Asparagus, Lemon and Goat Cheese Pasta. However, one should never forget that asparagus quickly steamed, drizzled with lemon juice is deliciously hard to beat.