The Crown Jewel – Asparagus?

Asparagus?  Really!  You’re going to write about asparagus?  I know …. sounds a bit bizarre doesn’t it.  To me, asparagus, like tulips, lamb, and opening day for the Red Sox just signifies Spring.  But here it is the fourth day of April, after last week’s 60 degree temperatures and I’m watching it snow!  You gotta love New England!

asparagus growingAsparagus.  Tall, slender, green stalks of goodness.  Versatile, full of nutrients and delicious.  I’ve never grown asparagus, probably because it takes such a commitment … to not only dedicated garden space, but to time.  This perennial vegetable should be planted about three years before the expected first harvest.

Asparagus “crowns” (one year old plants) are planted in early spring, in trenches on raised beds, about 6″ wide and 6″ deep.  The asparagus are not harvested the first or second year.  The beds should be heavily mulched and the plants should be allowed to go to seed until the third year.

Food historians have traced asparagus as far back as Egypt 5,000 years ago.  Carvings on Egyptian columns depict asparagus being offered to the Gods.  The oldest surviving cookbook, APICIUS, which dates back to the 4th century Rome, features recipes using asparagus.  Greek physicians considered the properties of asparagus to be medicinal, even considering asparagus an aphrodisiac? Historians have also noted that asparagus was grown in Syria, Spain and Greece, but didn’t come to France or the U.K. until the 1500’s.  This delicate vegetable was so highly prized it was carefully prepared and served to the powerful French mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour.

Today we’ve learned those early physicians were on to something.  Not only is asparagus delicious, research has proven that it is one of today’s super foods …

  • a good source of fiber, folate, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, vitamins B6,  A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose into cells.
  • a rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.
  • like leafy greens, delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12 to help prevent cognitive impairment.
  • contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, beneficial for people who suffer from edema.
  • is low in calories and is very low in sodium, contains no fat.

Fascinating or boring?  I’m not sure.  What I am sure of is that harvesting the first crops of asparagus is almost as exciting to some as the first flush plucking of Darjeeling.   Beginning in late April when the spring crops are ready, there are multi-day asparagus festivals around the world, from England to Germany to California.  These events are fun celebrations organized by local growers to create awareness for this ‘old fashioned’ veg.  Local vendors are in attendance with freshly cut asparagus, as well as other fresh, locally produced goods.  asparagus pic

Events always include asparagus eating competitions, cooking demonstrations, parades, auctions and concerts, culminating with the crowning of the Asparagus King and Queen.  You might also get to meet AsparaGUS, the costumed, green, lovable mascot.  And not to be outdone, the  AsparaMancer, or the AsparaFairy might also be in attendance.

asparagus recipeFrom appetizer to main dish, consider the versatility of asparagus.  Stir fry, saute, broil or bake, the shoots are prepared quickly and can be served simply as a side dish, or with chicken, fish, shrimp or, one of my favorites, wrapped with bacon and grilled over charcoal.   Asparagus can also be pickled, canned or frozen. The San Joanquin Asparagus Festival is getting really creative this year.  Asparagus will be featured in ice cream,  as asparagus slaw, asparagus corn dogs, and asparagus nachos.  They all sound good to me!!

This link has some fascinating and delicious recipes.  I’m going to try as many as I can, while asparagus are available – Versatile Asparagus Recipes.

What I will share with you now is one of my favorite recipes … a quick, easy and delicious soup.   Make a big batch and freeze half for another day.  My family loves it.  I hope you do to.

ASPARAGUS SOUP
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 lbs. asparagus, cut up
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
6 cups prepared chicken stock
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup cream (optional)

In a large stock pot, over medium heat, heat the oil and saute the onions until transparent (about 5 minutes).  Trim the tough, woody bottoms (about 2″) off the bottom of the asparagus stalks.  Cut the stalks into large pieces and add to the pot.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic.  Then add the prepared chicken stock and the diced potatoes.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your liking.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.

In small batches, put the soup into a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a saucepan, add the thyme and heat through.  For a creamier soup, add the cream just before serving.

Serve with a crisp, side salad and hot crusty bread.  Delicious!

Ahhh Spring …. you might not be here right now, but your bounty overflows!

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References:  British Asparagus, British Asparagus Festival, San Juaquin Asparagus Festival, Asparafest,

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