ROLLING BACK THE SPEARS
Asparagus has to be one of my favourite veggies and it is at this time of year that our local variety is available for its very short season. Okay you can get it all the time from the four winds but nothing beats our own in season. It has to be one of the trickiest and most uneconomic crops to grow with half your plot only producing at one time while the other half is on regeneration for another year. When you start off it does not grow until year three. Hence it has always been a more prized veggie and expensive with a few other precautions needed to have a successful harvest.
It grew wild originally in Eastern Europe and then got cultivated by the Romans who brought their farming skills for it to the rest of Europe. It was widely eaten then until the Middle Ages even deemed an aphrodisiac and then it finally landed in the Americas and Asia much later in nineteenth century. The name itself comes from the Persian asparag meaning sprout and the English first called it sperage so a bit of combo there to get to its modern name. It was once actually called sparrow grass and is also still termed a grass today and is in fact a member of the lily family.
The world is split between white and green asparagus, some countries preferring one to the other. The difference is the shoot being kept under soil to stop the sun getting at it so it stays white. We like our asparagus green like the English, the continentals like theirs white in the north and greener in the sunny south. The states are a big consumer and they are divided between the two as well. I like both actually preferring the white when it is a cold starter and the green as hot veggie accompaniment. There is a lesser used purple variety too.
Cooking wise they need to be snapped at the base which will be a bit wooden and tough so we would reserve this roughly one quarter part for making soups or sauces. The remaining spears can be peeled at this stage to remove the stringy exterior but with the very tender ones it is not always needed. Then they just need to be plunged into lots of boiling salted water if being eaten straight away and then strained off when just al dente after a couple of minutes. Traditionally they would be tied in bunches for this but it is not necessary.
If you are keeping them to eat another day and reheating or to serve cold in a salad then you need to plunge them straight in to iced water after boiling to cool them rapidly so as to stop the cooking process and retain the colour and texture. Steaming of them will not keep the same vibrant colour.
They do not need much doing to them for eating, some light seasoning, a drizzle of olive oil or butter, a squeeze of lemon for serving hot or cold. They are lovely grilled or on a barbeque as well. It works well with both meat and fish never mind on its own
Nutrition wise they are excellent as they are low in calories but very high in nutrients. Asparagus is an antioxidant so helps slow our aging process, promotes brain health, lowers blood pressure and fights off diseases. It is high in fibre too so it aids our digestion and improves our gut bacteria. Its high foliate level is of course ideal for pregnancy. So that is a lot of plusses.
There is a slight minus however and that in that half of us will have a mild odour in urine after eating it from one of its acids that cause a harmless reaction after it is processed in our plumbing to a sulphur compound which then wafts into the air on secretion. It is a small price to pay for such a culinary treat. It is a pure genetic lottery whether you will be one of the unlucky consumers with this negative. So if you have never ventured to asparagus then now is the time of year to give those spears a shot.