Smile Politely

It’s asparagus season! Rejoice!

Last week someone suggested that I need to have more structure in my diet, no more grabbing whatever looks good in the fridge after a grueling workout. He doesn’t suggest these things randomly. It is actually his job and he is good at it, which is why I can now do chin ups with a shoulder that was torn and all but frozen at Thanksgiving. As he defended the scientific merits of a popular sports drink and whey powder, I demurred that food should not be blue, nor should it be laced with recombinant bovine growth hormone. Unlike our previous debate over fish oil, he is going to win this one…in part. So as I find myself shopping for glucose and organic whey powder it occurs to me that there is nothing that I would choose to eat every day, with the exception of asparagus in season.

My brother-in-law can spot wild asparagus from his car while driving 55 miles an hour. Unfortunately, I do not possess this skill. So, I rely on Blue Moon Farm and Clay Bank Farm, both of which produce excellent cultivated asparagus for the Market at the Square in Urbana. Blue Moon’s asparagus also is available at Common Ground Food Coop.

Asparagus is a flowering stem that comes in green or purple, or white if it is not allowed to be exposed to sunlight. The purple is less common in the U.S. and has its origins in Italy. It is bigger in diameter than the green, but just as tender.

Regardless of the color of your asparagus, it needs water to stay in condition. So, if you aren’t going to use it immediately, cut a ¼ inch off the ends and plop the stalks in a glass or bowl of water, lest the heads start to open and the stems start to shrivel.

Grilling and roasting asparagus are easy enough tasks. Toss the spears with a little oil and toss them on the grill until they reach your desired level of tenderness. Or, toss the spears with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place them on a baking sheet. Roast these in the oven at 425 degrees F for 10 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Steaming asparagus is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t turn to mush. And, in the case of purple asparagus it is the only shot you have at keeping any of the fabulous color which turns green with boiling. You can pick up an inexpensive metal steaming rack at most hardware stores. Or pick up a bamboo steamer from any of the Asian markets in town. Either will allow you to keep the stems as long as possible.

While figuring out what to do with the long stems is easy enough, the problem becomes what to do with what doesn’t fit into the steamer. You can chop any leftover ends and add to omelets or frittatas. Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, has an excellent savory bread pudding recipe that was developed by Deborah Madison. Feel free to cut it in half. As I am as bad at foraging for wild mushrooms as I am foraging for wild asparagus, we omit the morels. We also leave out about half the cheese and it still turns out fine. If you don’t have the requisite amount of asparagus, you can always substitute some spring greens to make up the amount.

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