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Commencing Asparagus Season

Apr 01, 2015 12:06PM ● By Jennifer Neys

by Lesley Stiles

Even as we take account of drought  -- the foreseeable, unfortunate, long-standing part of our everyday lives, flowers relentlessly create natural sideshows at dang near every house you stroll by. Magnificent blooms pop from huge, magenta shadings and white Magnolia trees; roses burst out on the scene, stealing hearts right and left; freesias sneak their intoxicating scent into rivers of air in front of their dirt homes and force you to stall your walk in the neighborhood to ask, “What is that smell?” It practically forces you to, once again, visit Navlet’s, the Depot, or wherever you satisfy your insatiable Jones for planting. Our climate dictates, with or without water, for a short time anyway, glorious, skin caressing weather, sunrises, sunsets and color that careens through our senses and reminds us of our fortune in living here. No snow piled up for days here, like it or not.

Spring produce is running wild as well; no leash can keep strawberries or amazing, thought-provoking asparagus, returning this month for absolute, total taste-bud bliss, from jumping into reusable market bags and into our mouths.

After a long winter, as if by vegetal spirit summons, around mid-spring, asparagus makes an ethereal appearance amidst winter vegetable-laden tables at farmers’ markets. Long or short, thin or fat, size does not matter. Personal preference only dictates what lands in heavy shopper bags. Tight tips are a must, going from purple to green; firmness does matter with asparagus, having most flavor in the points d'amour ("love tips") that were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour.

Most of our asparagus heralds from the Central Valley of California. Holding great significance in the San Joaquin River Delta, enough to have Stockton honored with the location of the Asparagus Festival annually, asparagus also figures heavily in Britain. The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire lays claim to the title of largest producer in Eastern Europe, with an immense, weeklong festival honoring the herbaceous spring flowering perennial there, too.

Ancient in origin, the medicinal, diuretic asparagus is depicted in a 3000 year-old Egyptian frieze and also boasts title of mainstay at the Roman festival of Epicurus, used frozen from the previous season.

Used as a companion plant to tomatoes, asparagus repels harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants, while tomatoes repel the dreaded asparagus beetle. Having opposing seasons of peak production is yet another sweet convenience of nature.

Commencing asparagus season properly requires a celebration on all levels of dining. For breakfast, sauté sliced tips and stalks in butter and green garlic, scramble with eggs and chevre, and consume with fresh baguette and champagne. Lunch requires chilled poached asparagus served with mustard vinaigrette and chopped chives, while evening consumption demands that you toss asparagus with fruity olive oil, garlic, and salt, place on a hot grill to blister tender skins, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Sauté prawns with sliced cremini mushrooms, sliced asparagus, and garlic, splash with vin blanc, enrich with cream to reduce, and then lap up. Dipping steamed tips into a soft poached egg sprinkled with cracked sea salt and feathery puffs of grated Manchego serves intimate midnight soirees unforgettably well.

Get into the hills while the baby animals are still babies, the wild flowers are still wild, and the grass is still green. Take a loved one and a picnic, find a spot to call your own, and just breathe in what we get to call home.

Risotto with Green Garlic and Asparagus

1 large red onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice, or substitute barley for more fiber and protein

About 6 cups stock, heated

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound asparagus, sliced in ¼ in pieces

4 stalks of green garlic, cleaned and sliced

6 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Kosher salt and freshly grated pepper

Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy saucepan. Add onions and sauté for about 4 minutes until they begin to caramelize. Add the rice or barley and sauté for 3 to 4 more minutes until the rice becomes opaque and starts to brown. Add a cup of stock and let it come to a boil. Stir well and reduce heat slightly to a simmer. When stock is almost absorbed, add another cup and let absorb. Add another cup and keep repeating until risotto is creamy and almost soft. Turn off heat. In another sauté pan, heat the olive oil and sauté green garlic and asparagus until both are bright green. Stir into rice and season with parsley, salt and pepper. Serve with grated cheese. Serves 4



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