Shakespeare didn’t have asparagus in mind when he wrote,
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
But he could have. Because lovely, elegant asparagus is a harbinger of spring. Because, even though I know I can buy the spears throughout the year, I also know that, come April, the ones I buy will be the local kind at the farmer’s market rather than those grown and packed for shipment from some faraway place.
For me, asparagus has always meant spring has sprung! Sunnier skies, tulips blooming, warmer weather, lighter clothing. Freedom.
Fortunately, everyone in my family -- my husband Ed, kids, in-laws and grandchildren all love asparagus, making it easy to put at least one vegetable on the plate when we all have dinner together. And asparagus spears are so elegant looking that they are a regular go-to when I have company for dinner, which is often.
I usually buy green asparagus. They’re expensive enough! The white (and purple) ones can be too costly. And I usually buy the medium thickness spears. The thick ones (a different variety, NOT older) are full of good asparagus flavor, but need peeling and most of the time I don’t have the time to bother. Pencil thin asparagus are very delicate, best steamed and served with a dab of butter or a squirt of lemon juice and nothing more.
The medium ones are more versatile in asparagus recipes. I don’t peel them and I can use them for every sort of recipe. Steamed, roasted or (when it’s even warmer and I can cook outdoors) grilled and served as a side dish. Cut up and used in a frittata, risotto, omelet, quiche or with pasta. Chopped for soup.
I cook with a lot of whole grains, so very often I’ll make quinoa, farro or oat groats, add some vegetables, asparagus included, to create an easy side dish or salad.
I also use the spears dressed with vinaigrette and served at room temperature as a first course. It’s a perfect make-ahead dish for a summer buffet. You can easily change this kind of salad to suit your need: sprinkle the spears with toasted, buttered breadcrumbs and/or freshly grated Parmesan Cheese for a dairy meal or sprinkled with crushed, toasted almonds or hazelnuts or freshly grated citrus peel and chopped mint or finely chopped hard-cooked eggs when you need something parve.
April and the next couple of months is probably a good time to try out some new asparagus recipes. Now that the discontent of snow and cold has passed, it is a delicious way to welcome spring.
What is your favorite way to cook asparagus?