While asparagus is widely available year-round, it wasn’t always so. Prior to the age of modern storage, contemporary transportation and industrial agriculture, asparagus was available only for a brief window of two to three months during the spring. These days, asparagus is available from hothouses and importers year round. In fact, while Europeans have always revered asparagus, enough to organize entire festivals around the harvest, the United States imports more asparagus than any other country in the world.
Asparagus is an unusual vegetable. Tall, slender and willowy with an elongated flower at the tip, it has obvious phallic distinctiveness that any juvenile could make a joke of. The ancients often referred admiringly to asparagus, with the exceptional of the influential Pliny, who believed that wearing it as an amulet could make a woman barren.
I am not exactly sure who would turn asparagus into a necklace. Regardless, it was the cool-weather/hot-tempered, post-Middle Ages sybarites across Europe, India and China who entered the Age of Reason with asparagus as a ritual sexy joke and erotic love-food on the mind. More recently, in 2012, Newsweek magazine was slammed (by folks with seemingly too much time, too little humor and a failure to notice how un-sexy green can be) for printing a cover photo of provocative, lipstick red lips opening for the flowers of two asparagus spears.
PS: I don’t know any woman who wants somethiing that green and limp plunging into her mouth….Just saying….
Anyway, From Pliny to Rabelais to Martha, it seems that eating our vegetables just never goes out of style. Enlightened epicureans from Franklin to Jefferson to Brillat-Savarin adored asparagus, especially steamed and simply garnished with a mayonnaise, aioli or hollandaise.
Even so, some folks cringe at the idea of asparagus. It can be stringy and nasty, reminiscent of Grandma’s over-cooked and dingy side dishes that, under the daring, wrathful stare of your parents, you had to try. And it does have that distinct smell that visits long after dinner is gone. But you should try it! Aside from its libidinous qualities, asparagus is super nutritious; packed with tons of vitamins, fiber and minerals. And its tastes great….of course, when you cook it right! Good asparagus is never over-cooked to that dull green stringiness that looks so unappetizing and tastes worse. It is bright green and tender, holding its shape with just the slightest bite.
Here is What You Need to Know
What to Look For: Thickness is solely a matter of preference. Thin stalks don’t necessarily taste better than thick, although depending on the application, thicker stalks may need to be peeled, trimmed or sliced. Choose bright green, healthy looking bunches with tightly closed tips that are not limp or fraying.
There are primarily two types of asparagus sold in our area: green and white. Sometimes you may see purple, which turns green when cooked and tastes the same as other types. Purple may be a way to turn curious kids into veggie lovers. White asparagus is considered a bit more tender and fine than green, and carries the subsequent price tag. It is grown by constantly covering the tip of the stalk so that photosynthesis never occurs. Only a true lover of asparagus would notice the difference.
How to Store:
Asparagus is a tender plant- its freshness doesn’t last long. It is best grown in your yard (although this takes patience, it is SO worth the effort, both culinarily and financially) or purchased seasonally at the farmer’s market. It can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days by wrapping it in a damp paper towel.
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