Asparagus a Star Among Spring Crops
April showers bring May flowers, but our flora situation has been enhanced since November. Throughout Diablo Valley, blooming flowers, trees and shrubs and verdant green hills reward all the senses.
Spring crops have also responded. Some of the large-scale growers’ crops have been ruined by flooding, including lettuce, but that only instills further incentive to buy from the farmers’ market; it’s smaller scale production is not affected the way the mega agri businesses are. This is due in part to better bio- dynamic environmental practices such as mulching.
At the farmers’ market, the eyes and senses are treated to crisp, vibrant chartreuse chards and kales, bright orange and red carrots and beets, slim or fat asparagus, sweet radishes, crazy astounding varieties of citrus, and so much more. We have received the amount of rain we used to when I was a kid. I see it as business as usual as we reap the benefits of normal aquifers at long last.
It’s time to get our summer gardens going. Passing the spring equinox, rising temperatures at night make for ideal conditions and sweet results. April 15 marks the big Biota Garden’s plant sale and Plant Expo at Rogers Ranch, a fantastic option for kicking off the new planting season. This is an event not to be missed. There are also really good plant sales at DVC.
Asparagus is currently peaking at the farmers’ market, screaming to be prepared and eaten. As adventurous teenagers growing up in the 1970s, we snuck up to the delta and foraged asparagus spears, rejected by pickers for not being up to market par, and ate them sweet, crunchy, and raw.
The Many Ways To Cook Up Asparagus
Asparagus looms large in the early spring. Stockton is as synonymous with asparagus as Brentwood is to corn. Long, short, fat, thin, green, purple, or the mysteriously buried white, asparagus steamed with salt water and served with mayonnaise or melted butter is almost unbeatable in its satisfaction.
Slicing and sautéing asparagus with olive oil, garlic and fresh farm eggs and then showering it with shaved Manchego makes a sinfully awesome epicurean celebration of spring. Tossed with salt and olive oil and blistered to a light char on incendiary grills elevates all sugars to siren level on your taste buds.
Classically French in inspiration, steamed asparagus gets saucy when served with a little masterpiece of soft-boiled eggs whipped with champagne vinegar, capers, shallots, and olive oil. Simmer asparagus, onions, and garlic in chicken broth. When soft, add ½ & ½, purée and season with fresh nutmeg and salt and pepper, creating a brilliant spring soup. Garnish with puréed fresh peas and luscious crème fraiche for a pivotal food moment. Or simply blanch and dip into fresh made Meyer lemon aioli. Bon appétit and happy spring, and do not neglect to get outside to hike, walk, bike…anything to enjoy our amazing valley.
Fresh Ranch Eggs Softly Scrambled with Chopped Chives and Jack Cheese, topped with Black Bean and Mango Salsa
Softly scramble eggs and slowly cook with nice amounts of butter, scraping sides and bottom, so you are basically “stirring” the eggs on low heat. What results is a fluffy, light-colored, well-adhered egg dish. The milk is more for the addition of water than cream. The butter is enough with the richness of the eggs, but the water content in the milk opens up a world of leavening by converting to steam as it heats in the pan, pushing air into the eggs, fluffing them up, and making them even softer. Sautéed local asparagus is seasonally awesome in this particular dish.
1 dozen eggs, preferably from a neighbor, your own chickens, or the farmers’ market
½ cup non-fat milk or plain almond milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup sliced, sautéed asparagus, if available
1 cup grated good Jack cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste
Crack eggs into a bowl and whip with a whisk, adding milk, salt, and pepper. Heat a large, non-stick saucepan to nice and warm. Add butter and olive oil and heat to just before smoking. If using, add the asparagus, warm up, and add the whipped eggs. Using a soft, rubber baking spatula, stir eggs and scrape off sides in a circular motion, almost constantly. Reduce heat and sauté eggs for an additional 15 minutes or so or until firm. Add cheese and mix in until nicely distributed and melted. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Serve hot. Serves 6 to 8.
Black Bean and Mango Salsa
1 cup cooked black beans
1 mango, firm enough to chop but ripe, chopped
1 jalapeño, chopped fine
½ red onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sized bowl, mix all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. Serve over eggs or on side. Makes 2 cups.