By Dana Zia, Golightly Gourmet
“Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.” Charles Lamb
We have visiting royalty among our seasonal vegetables right now, Asparagus. It even has a crown to prove it. It was given the honored title, “king of vegetables” in the 18th century by King Luis the XIV, who could not get enough of it. He was the first to come up with year around green houses so he could eat it all the time. Fortunately for globalization, we don’t have to face the guillotine to have it whenever we want, but it is particularly perfect in the early spring.
There is something about asparagus that commands respect and adoration. Its tall slender head, held high, almost demands that we dress for dinner. Its history is shrouded in mystery, like a good politician. Some think it originated in Asia, some in Egypt, but no matter where it came from it always is given a place of honor on the table.
As expected asparagus rules in nutrition being rich in Vitamin C, K and A and a superior choice in folates. Folates promote the health of our cells, in repairing them structurally. Folates are also king in keeping your heart healthy. One cup of steamed asparagus contains the pittance of 48 calories, no fat or sodium, but great assets of fiber and nutrients.
The Northwest is the perfect place to grow asparagus as this monarch likes sandy soil and cooler climates. Be prepared to invest in a long term relationship though, as once you start an asparagus bed, it will grow for 20 to 30 years. It likes to be pampered and well cared for, with regular compost pedicures and bowing down to weed it yet the rewards are treasured.
Make sure and buy asparagus that are full, heavy and smooth looking. Those that have a dry shriveled appearance have been de-throned. Honor these royalties by placing a wet paper towel, secured with a rubber band, around their feet and store in the fridge in an open plastic bag, their crowns out. Remember that asparagus hardly needs cooked at all, just steamed for a few minutes. If you are going to be using them in a salad, plunge them in a cold water bath immediately after steaming them, to keep from getting bedraggled and dull.
To prepare asparagus, give them a good washing and them snap off the tough woody stems. Asparagus is ready and willing to help as it will snap off in the perfect spot. There are so many wonderful ways to honor this vegetable in the kitchen. You can eat them raw, steamed, grilled, roasted, tossed in pasta or whatever. Use your imagination with this elegant vegetable. Here are a few fun and different ways to serve asparagus.
Grilled Asparagus Royalty Rafts
Here is a great simple recipe from “Cooking Light” that I purely adore. You can skip the skewers and grilling all together and roast on a baking sheet on the top rack in the oven at 400 degrees, for three minutes, then stir and roast another 3 minutes. Easy!
16-20 thick and tender asparagus spears, snapped
1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon of dark sesame oil
1or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 or 3 teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
Few cranks of black pepper
Soak the skewers in water for about an hour so you don’t light anything on fire. Lay the spears flat, four or five in a row on a cutting board. Thread the skewers through the asparagus horizontally, one skewer at the bottom and one at the top of the stems. Some of the spear may spilt, so go slow to avoid this. There are your little kingly rafts! (Aren’t they cute?)
Combine the soy sauce, oil and garlic in a small bowl and whip up. Brush the mix over the rafts of asparagus then grill them on a hot grill or under the broiler in the house. Be careful and watch them closely. Don’t walk away! They only need to be grilled 3 minutes on each side. Take off the grill and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and few cranks of pepper. Serve right away to lucky loved ones.
Lemon Asparagus Ribbon Salad
The ribbons on this salad are almost luminous. Very beautiful.
Around 1 pound of asparagus
1 ½ cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 or 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped chives
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
A few cranks of pepper
Pinch of salt
½ cup of crumbled feta
Okay, let’s start with the tricky part, making asparagus ribbons. First wash you asparagus and then cut off the tips and save for another use. Hold one spear over a bowl and run a potato peeler down it to make ribbons. This is easier said than done, but with a bit of practice you can get beautiful ribbons. Toss the ribbons and the red tomatoes together. Then mix the chives through the salt in a small jar and shake it up. Drizzle the dressing over the ribbons and tomatoes and gently toss to blend. Plate and sprinkle with the snow white feta. Beautiful and delicious!