Springtime is no longer around the corner, it is here. With longer days and a shift in weather, it’s hard not to want to fling off the boots and start wearing your flip-flops on a regular basis.
Drive by Berkeley High, and you might think it’s summer with all the short wearing and airy clothing. But, you really know it’s spring when you see the first bundle of bright green asparagus at your local farmers market, as I did this week. They are the perfect addition to a quick dinner a la minute, or for Sunday breakfast, with poached eggs – oh, don’t get me started. Just be sure to add them to your shopping list.
Asparagus season: California is the largest grower of asparagus, and the harvest typically runs from March through June. With their longer growing needs (about three years in the ground), and such a short season, they are somewhat of a specialty vegetable, so grab them while you can.
Asparagus can arrive thin as pencils or fat and meaty, depending on their growth cycle. Fatter asparagus can be quite sweet and tender, and typically come from younger, more vigorous plants. Thinner, smaller sized asparagus come from more mature plants, or sometimes from plants that have been grown closer together. They are quite delicious, too — in fact often prized in professional kitchens.
Note that size is not an indicator of sweetness or tenderness, but is related to how a plant is grown.
Buying asparagus: Buy asparagus soon after harvesting for the best flavor, and try to use within a few days. Long-stored, they turn woody, tough and paper-like in taste. Look for bright green spears, with closed tips and freshly cut ends. Snap off the ends, before cooking, or trim and peel, for a fancier look, if preferred.
The eating: I like to steam my asparagus or simply blanch in boiling, salted water, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on size, then give them a quick roll in a hot pan with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest and a sprinkling of sea salt. Grate fresh Parmesan over top and pass the black pepper. I guarantee you will be sated and happy.
Heidi Swanson, of 101 Cookbooks, offers this delicious and healthy recipe for asparagus salad.
Romney Steele is a freelance writer, cook, and artist and the author of My Nepenthe.
Berkeley Farmers Markets take place on Tuesdays, 2-6pm, at Derby Street @ MLK Jr. Way; Thursdays, 2-6pm, at Shattuck @ Rose Street; and on Saturdays, 10am-3pm, at Center Street @ MLK Jr. Way.