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MARGARET PROUSE: Asparagus now fresh from the garden

Roasted asparagus is delicious when seasoned with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and decorated with lemon.
Roasted asparagus is delicious when seasoned with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and decorated with lemon. - 123RF Stock Photo

Steam it, sauté it or toss it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and then roast or grill it to serve as a side dish or a component in a salad or a main dish

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – I hope that the people who live on the property where I grew up have kept the asparagus. My father had, with the exception of commercial fields, the largest asparagus patch I’ve ever seen. We never measured it, but estimate it was around 75 feet long x 4 feet wide. I’d hate to think that the current residents don’t appreciate it or, worse still, that they destroyed it.

We had as much asparagus as we pleased while it was in season, and it wasn’t treated as a fancy delicacy. It was an everyday vegetable, suitably relished, especially early in the season, but not reserved for special occasions.

During the decades we have lived at our current home, my husband and I have established an asparagus patch in our garden. It will never be as large as my dad’s, but by planting crowns that we’ve purchased and received from other gardeners and nurturing new little crowns that sprang up as our older roots self-seeded, we have built it into a respectable patch.

We’ve had a few meals of asparagus so far this spring. The first was just a taste, a few spears each, but the second was a feast, a plate full of asparagus topped with Hollandaise sauce.

The best way I’ve found to cook the spears is to lay them flat in a large frying pan with a little boiling water. It’s impossible to give a definite cooking time because it depends on the thickness of the stalks. It could be anywhere from 2 minutes for thin stalks to maybe 8 minutes for thick ones. Fresh asparagus should be cooked just long enough to brighten the colour and make it tender crisp, definitely not for long enough to make it mushy.

I’ve discovered, in reading two vintage cookbooks printed in the late 1800s that our ancestors were not averse to eating mushy asparagus. The author of one recommended boiling asparagus for 25 minutes, the other, for 20-40 minutes. Compare that to the current practices of cooking for less than 10 minutes or perhaps slightly longer if the long stalks are tied in a bundle with string and cooked upright.

Besides cooking asparagus in boiling water, you can also steam it, sauté it or toss it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and then roast or grill it to serve as a side dish or a component in a salad or a main dish.

As a vegetable side dish, I think that asparagus looks and tastes particularly good with fish. A squeeze of lemon enhances the tastes of both, or try seasoning it with red pepper flakes, grated cheese or flavoured butter.

Asparagus can, of course, be served with any protein main course, including eggs – think French omelette filled with lightly-steamed asparagus spears and grated cheddar or sautéed chopped asparagus, red peppers and onions in a frittata.

Many people believe that they don’t like asparagus after trying canned asparagus spears in rolled sandwiches. I think they might be surprised at how good a similar sandwich is when made with a spear of fresh asparagus that’s been blanched in boiling water ever so quickly and then chilled rapidly.

Lightly cooked asparagus, either solo or accompanied by other fresh vegetables, makes a great topping for pasta, with a little added cheese. Another pasta possibility: toss cooked pasta with a splash of heavy cream, chunks of P.E.I. lobster, and steamed asparagus.

Asparagus with Fusilli

Adapted from Glick, Judie and Carol Jensson: “The New Granville Island Market Cookbook”. Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2012.

250 g (½ lb) dried fusilli

500 g (1 lb) fresh asparagus

25 mL (2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil

25 mL (2 tbsp) unsalted butter

125 mL (½ cup) grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the fusilli until tender.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the asparagus by rinsing it under cold water and snapping off the woody ends. Cut asparagus stalks into 1 cm (½ inch) pieces.

In a medium frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil and butter until butter is just melted. Add the asparagus and sauté until tender, about 8-10 minutes.

Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Toss asparagus and cheese with pasta and serve immediately.

Makes 2 (generous) servings as a main course or 4 as a side dish

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at prouse@pei.sympatico.ca.

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