by Kate Heyhoe
Asparagus officially arrives March 20. Rather, the first day of spring occurs on this date, the vernal equinox. However, for dedicated foodies, spring and asparagus are synonymous.
Actually, with today's growing methods, you can now find asparagus all year long. But somehow serving asparagus in January is akin to wearing white shoes after Labor Day: it's just too... gauche.
Without paying too much heed to the fashion police or food cops, I just never think of asparagus as being equipped with a winter wardrobe. Sure, roasting asparagus gives them a caramalized, woodsier taste that pairs well with other roasted foods, like chickens and pork loins and other cold-weather fare. In fact, roasting is probably the best way to cook winter-harvested spears.
On the other hand, I never roast springtime asparagus. Why? Because it's like throwing a Tommy Hilfiger cardigan over a silky Chanel sheath and sending them down the runway. Ouch! By themselves these pieces are fine for their respective seasons, just don't put them together.
Spring asparagus is so perfect, it's a crime to overcook, overdress, or overlook it. But it's not a crime to overeat it. I serve spring spears as often as I can, and I lean toward using asparagus as a salad replacement, serving it room temperature and never more than just crisply cooked—in fact, the slenderest, daintiest spears taste fine cooked just one notch above raw.
Think of dressing up tender spring asparagus in the same way you'd adorn the silky Chanel sheath: with accents that enhance but don't overwhelm. Do go global—asparagus takes well to a world of different seasonings—but don't mix and match too much. Beware of overly fruity olive oils—stick with lighter ones. A touch of shallot instead of a glob of garlic. A splash of citrus rather than an astringent vinegar. A bit of Celtic grey sea salt verses Morton's supermarket salt. A bright drizzle instead of a heavy hollandaise. Winter asparagus take well to heavier seasonings, but spring's bounty needs just a wisp of flavorings. (Think Jennifer Lopez at the Grammies.)
After the first few waves of spring's most tender asparagus have passed, when the spears are still tasty but not outstandingly pristine, I move on to stir-fries, mother sauces, and more robust seasonings. But until then, simplicity rules and mother nature shines.
Try the following recipes for springtime asparagus, and be careful not to overdress them. I like to serve these dishes with delicate sand dabs for dinner, thinly sliced prosciutto and scrambled eggs at breakfast, or as a light lunch with crusty, grainy breads. Like other fashion plates, springtime asparagus looks good any time of day.
Kate's Global Kitchen for March, 2000:
This page created March 2000
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