Every year as winter fades and the soil warms, a miracle happens in certain farm and in garden plots. The cool wet soil gives way to emerging asparagus spears. It's one of the first crops available for home gardeners and market farmers alike. And anyone who has had the pleasure of eating it raw knows that fresh asparagus is heaven.
Asparagus one of the few perennial vegetables; large beds of asparagus have been known to last for generations when properly cared for. If you're starting an asparagus bed from scratch, you can buy the crowns from seed companies as one-, two- or three-year-old roots. The older the roots are, the more expensive and the sooner they produce a harvestable crop. Gardeners wait three years to harvest the younger roots, after that, they will multiply and should last a lifetime or longer.
Roots should be planted in soil heavily amended with compost or other organic matter, usually in a trench and then top-dressed with more compost each fall. Plants growing in the right conditions can grow more than 8 inches in a day and must be harvested before the tips loosen and open into loose fern-like plants. Never pick a spear that's smaller than a pencil; wait until next season and it will reach full size.
As long as it's not drenched in Hollandaise sauce or butter, asparagus is a good low-calorie food. The spears are great eaten raw, but most people want their asparagus cooked. That's fine, but take care not to boil the nutrients and flavor out of this seasonal culinary treat, which happens to be a good source for vitamin A, potassium and folic acid, as well as traces of copper, zinc and vitamin B.
An easy way to use asparagus is to steam the spears for about six to eight minutes and serve with a little sea salt and good olive oil. It's a simple but memorable dish. Asparagus is also lovely when wrapped with prosciutto or bacon. Chop roasted asparagus tips into an omelet with melted fontina or goat cheese and lunch will have to be pretty spectacular to follow that morning meal.
Although green asparagus is the norm, purple varieties are worth a try, too. White asparagus is achieved by growing the vegetable without sunlight, which prevents the plant from producing chlorophyll. The white variety is a delicacy that some find less bitter than ordinary asparagus. It's a stunner when plated and can be mixed with green spears for an interesting look.
Freezing is probably the best way to store asparagus. First wash it and trim the bottom of the stems. Blanch whole stems in boiling water for only two minutes and place directly in ice water. Drain and then pack the spears in plastic freezer bags. Don't defrost before cooking.
Easy Asparagus and Garlic
4 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
5-10 minced garlic cloves
1/4 cup cold chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 lb fresh asparagus
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Heat the oil in a saucepan on medium high and add the garlic stirring vigorously for one minute. Add cold stock and reduce heat; add butter.
Place asparagus spears in a roasting pan and coat with the oil-butter-garlic mixture.
Roast at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove asparagus to serving dish and sprinkle with grated cheese.
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Asparagus: Perennial Spring Miracle - Doug Oster Recipes
(c) 2010 Doug Oster Recipes
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