For me the epitome of spring food - Asparagus. Every year as spring arrives, I impatiently wait as the stores and the Farmer's Market laden their crates and shelves with this delicate vegetable. Funnily enough until a few years ago I hardly ever went for the green sort, but always preferred the white Asparagus, which is actually more widely available in Germany.
I think it actually had to do with my memory of the last time I ate green asparagus. It was on an Air France flight to Paris. I was 18 and traveling with my dad. I remember ripping off the sticky aluminum foil from the tray. Inside I was greeted by a musty smell of meat and vegetables and the sight of 3 limp and overcooked asparagus spears. It was not very appetizing to say the least. The look on my dad's face was also one of disappointment. But bravely we both grabbed our forks firmly in our hands and pierced one of the asparagus spears. Just before we opened our mouths we took a quick glance at each other. As if to say "here goes nothing!" Then popped the slightly mushy stick into our mouths.
Pushing the tray, still half full, away from us, my dad sipped his whiskey to disinfect his taste buds, I patted down the paper napkin on the tray, in which the remnants of the asparagus spear was hidden. Without exchanging a word both my dad and I started laughing. Although, I still smile at the experience with my dad, there was nothing funny about the bitter and woody taste of asparagus. I did not touch a green asparagus for years after.
One spring afternoon in Germany, however, I bought some wonderful vivid green asparagus at the Farmer's Market. At home I prepared a fresh salad and dared to take another go at eating green asparagus. It was nothing compared to the sloppy stick on the flight all those years ago. This was crunchy, nuttier and so full of aroma. The best thing about it was I hardly had any work with it. No peeling, short cooking time and full flavor. Perfect!
The asparagus is known as a luxury vegetable, which is prized for prized for its succulent taste and tender texture. Although 300 varieties of asparagus have been noted, only 20 are edible. It is a perennial garden plant belonging to the Lily family. It arrives with the coming of spring and extends through till July. There are three types of Asparagus and are distinguished by their color and later by their taste:
- Green asparagus is the more common variety found in the US and has a more powerful taste. It grows freely in flat beds, and, exposed to the sunlight, develops the chlorophyll that turns it green, giving it the full flavor.
- White asparagus has a more delicate flavor and tender texture. It is grown underground to inhibit its development of chlorophyll content and therefore gets its distinctive white coloring. White asparagus is very popular in Germany and other European countries.
- Purple asparagus is much smaller than the green or white variety and has a fruitier flavor. It has higher sugar and lower fibre levels in comparison to the green and white varieties.
Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence. They are very low in calories and loaded with vitamins and minerals. A 100g of asparagus have only 24 calories! They are a great source of folic acid, vitamin A, B vitamins and vitamin C and provide a good amount of calcium and fiber to the diet. Asparagus have detoxifying and diuretic effects. The fibers found in asparagus help clean out the gastrointestinal tract. They also help the body get rid of the excess water. Asparagus also contains phytochemical glutathione, which has antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties.
Selecting & Storing
Fresh asparagus should have firm, bright, smooth spears with full, tightly formed heads. When you snap freshly harvested asparagus, it should be crisp, moist and juicy. The ends of the stalks should not be too woody, although a little woodiness prevents the asparagus from drying.
Asparagus should be used within a day or two after purchasing, otherwise it starts to loose flavor. Store in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel. Place the asparagus in the back of the refrigerator away from any light, as folate is destroyed by exposure to air, heat or light.
Asparagus can be enjoyed hot or cold. It is not necessary to peel the green asparagus, however the white one require a good amount of peeling with a special asparagus peeler. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus. You can steam, roast or gently saute them. Served with a vinaigrette they taste delectable.
- Try growing your own asparagus: Easy Gardening for Asparagus gives comprehensive instructions.
- More about Asparagus on Wikipedia
- Read my article on the Daily Tiffin about spring food.
This dish is simple but simply perfect. The asparagus is drizzled in olive oil, and some lemon juice, sprinkled with salt and pepper and then gently roasted in the oven. Leaves you time to prepare your own sauce Hollandaise. Ideally served with poached eggs and steamed new potatoes. The Prosciutto di Parma (Parma Ham) is entirely optional with this dish. I just enjoy the combination of the ham and the asparagus.
900g asparagus - washed and woody ends cut off.
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
For the poached eggs
1/2 liter vegetable stock
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
4 Grade A organic eggs - cold
A good serving of sauce Hollandaise
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
In an large, flat oven proof dish spread out the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using your fingers toss well so that the each asparagus spear is coated in the vinaigrette. Place in the oven and gently roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
How to poach eggs?
In a pot bring vegetable stock and vinegar to a rolling boil. Keeping the liquid at a good simmer hold a ladle just below the surface of the liquid. Break an egg into the ladle. This allows the egg to keep its form and hinders it from running throughout the pot. Always keep the ladle just below the surface and poach the egg for 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully take the egg out of the simmering stock and place it in a metal bowl filled with luke warm salted water, so that the egg keeps its desired consistency. Cut up the edges of any loose egg white strands to give it a cleaner look. Poach each egg in this manner.
For first time poachers: You might find this video from Serious Eats on how to poach an egg very helpful.
For a quickie: Poached eggs in a microwave. I've never tried this out myself, but if anyone does please let me know how it worked out.
For big gatherings: Something I will definitely try out the next time I have a brunch gathering - Epicurious' Perfect Poached Eggs.
The perfectly poached eggs should be soft, with the whites just set and the yolks runny. HMMMNN!
I use vegetable stock instead of water as I find it gives it a delectable flavoring. If you prefer you can simply use water and vinegar.
Serve the roasted asparagus with a dollop of sauce Hollandaise and poached eggs with steamed new potatoes sprinkled with some fresh herbs or my favorite herb mixture.
You can also use white asparagus for this dish, but it requires a little more cleaning and peeling time. Instead of roasting them you can steam them in water with a dash of lemon juice, sugar and salt. Depending on their thickness this might take 20 minutes.
For me this is the perfect spring food. Not only because I used asparagus as my spring vegetable, but also because the quick cooking method. Roasting vegetables is perfect. It allows you to sit down and enjoy a glass of chilled wine and the gorgeous warm weather outside. Who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when the glorious weather lures you outside? This is very much the kind of food we enjoy during the warmer months. Light and refreshing, quickly cooked but with a burst of delicate flavors.
What does your spring food look like? Don't forget your Spring Food for this month's Monthly Mingle. I am so looking forward to your creations.
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