Market Mondays – Asparagus

It’s one of the temptations of winter. Bunches of asparagus from Peru, tidily displayed in the supermarket aisle. They’re never as tasty as local, but when you’re desperate for a bit of something spring-like, they certainly seem to fit the bill. But now that Ontario asparagus is everywhere, it only seems right to make it a star on our tables.

Related to the lily, asparagus is a flowering spring vegetable that is native to Europe, northern Africa and eastern Asia. Growing from a crown planted in sandy soil, asparagus spears can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period under ideal conditions. The spears will grow for 6 to 7 weeks with pickings about every 4 to 5 days, until the spears are finally left to grown into a fluffy fern with red berries.

When purchasing asparagus, look for firm, fresh tips. Thin spears are not necessarily better tasting than thick ones. Remove the woody ends by grasping the asparagus at the very end and the very tip and bending it – it will snap off where the woodiness begins. Keep asparagus clean, cold and covered when storing. Asparagus is normally served as a side dish and can easily be frozen on canned. A traditional serving method is on toast, either creamed or cooked and doused in butter. Asparagus is one of the few food  items that etiquette books permit to be eaten with the fingers.

Asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid and thiamine. And until you douse it with butter and other good things, it is very low in calories.

Incidentally, studies have shown that everyone gets “asparagus pee” after eating asparagus. However, only about 22% of the population has the gene that allows them to detect that very distinct smell.

Asparagus alla Milanese
from Christopher Palik, Executive Chef, L-Eat Catering and Paese Ristorante

1/2 bunch of Ontario asparagus
2 large eggs
2 tbsp of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of salt

Makes enough for two people as a side.

Place a sauce pan of water with the salt on the stove and bring to a boil. Place a frying pan on low heat and add the butter. Cut the woody part off the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Crack both eggs into the frying pan, cook gently until the egg whites just set, then remove from the heat. Drop the asparagus into the boiling water and cook until tender. Remove the asparagus from the water and drain. Split the asparagus into two plates, place one egg on top of each plate of asparagus and pour over the remaining butter. Season and sprinkle over the Parmigiano Reggiano. It is important that the egg yolk be runny as when broken this will make the sauce.

Asparagus Salad

I had a version of this at Local Kitchen and Wine Bar a few weeks ago. I recreated it recently and think I got it pretty close. Serves 2 hungry people or 4 as a small side dish.

2 bunches asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano

Remove woody ends from asparagus stalks and chop into 1-inch pieces. Blanche in boiling water for about 1-2 minutes, until just barely fork tender. Drain asparagus and shock with cold water. Drain again and allow to cool. Toss asparagus with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Arrange on plates and then shave thin slices of the cheese over top.

For more information about asparagus, or for asparagus recipes, check out the Ontario Asparagus Growers’ Association.