Asparagus

by Kerry Dunnington

I’ve often wondered if grocery store produce departments offered frequent flier miles for fruits and vegetables, what fruit or vegetable would collect the largest number of miles? I did some research and learned asparagus generally logs more miles in a week than commercial airline pilots! By the time this delicate vegetable finds its way into your grocery store basket, it has traveled the globe.

Most of the asparagus we purchase hails from far away places such as Peru (now the world’s leading asparagus exporter), China, and California. As the crow flies, Peru is 3,536 miles from Maryland, China 7,446, and California 3,000.

In Hadley, Massachusetts (297 miles from Maryland), which until recently was the asparagus capitol of the world, the bulk of their asparagus harvest is exported. Towns surrounding Hadley don’t even supply “Hadley Grown” asparagus at any local Farmers’ markets!

This isn’t the way we intended to protect, preserve and honor our local agriculture. We need to reverse this trend and to lessen the “carbon footprints” resulting from moving food such distances to market. We need to buy food in its growing season here—enjoying it when it’s at its peak flavor and offers the most nutrients.


Selecting, Storing and Preparing

The asparagus season is brief and runs generally from April through May. Use asparagus within 1 to 2 days of purchasing. Asparagus stalks should be rounded; look for firm stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The thickness of each spear is a matter of preference and will determine the cooking time. I find the most flavorful spears are medium sized. To store, remove the bands that bind the stalks and refrigerate with
the ends wrapped in a paper towel. Before cooking, remove the woody end (1-2 inches)of each stalk.


Serving Suggestions

Asparagus can be served hot or cold. If you’re serving cold asparagus, (although I think serving the spears cold mutes their flavor), plunge the stalks in cold water immediately after cooking. Once cold, remove the stalks and transfer to a kitchen towel.

Many methods can be applied when cooking asparagus. Stalks can be steamed, boiled, broiled, or grilled. I tested each method and discovered the most flavorful asparagus is boiled; it evokes a clean mild flavor and preserves the bright green color. 

 


 

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Asparagus

Lemon and asparagus complement each other perfectly. This recipe is simple to assemble, colorful, refreshing and so representative of spring. The dish stands on its own, but if you want to serve accompaniments, toss baby lettuce leaves with an oil and vinegar dressing and serve with slices of olive bread.

For optimum results, the eggs and milk should be at room temperature when you begin. The ingredients are easier to incorporate if the pasta is broken in half before cooking. Be sure to grate the lemon zest before you juice the lemon.

  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup low fat milk
  • 8-ounces angel hair pasta
  • One bunch fresh asparagus trimmed of woody end and cut into 1-inch pieces (cutting the asparagus on the diagonal adds to the presentation)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese


In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and milk until well combined. Cook pasta in salted boiling water for about 4 minutes, add asparagus and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is just fork tender, drain.

While the pasta and asparagus are cooking, melt butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat, add lemon rind, lemon juice and salt, cook for 1 minute.

Pour lemon/butter mixture over pasta and asparagus and toss. Add egg/milk combination to pasta/asparagus mixture and cook over low heat for a few minutes or until mixture slightly thickens, stirring constantly, then serve immediately.

Serve Parmesan cheese buffet style.


Serves 4-6


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