Are you all set for Spring? The snow has melted, the flowers are blooming and the sun is rising earlier every morning. Birds are singing. Have you started exfoliating? Are you eager to put the sweaters back in the closet? It’s finally April and we are springing with joy for asparagus season!
We have been eating asparagus for ages. 20,000 year-old wild asparagus seeds have been found at archeological digs in Egypt. There is an image of asparagus in an Egyptian frieze that was painted before 3000 BC. Queen Nefertiti decreed asparagus to be the food of the Gods. In the first century AD Emperor Augustus quipped, “Velocius quam asparagi conquantur,” which every clever Latin wag knows means, “As quick as cooking asparagus”. A recipe for cooking asparagus even appears in the oldest known cookbook: Apicius’s Third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.
The asparagus-loving emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus kept an “Asparagus Fleet” for importing their beloved vegetable from the far edges of their vast empire. Samuel Johnson, the great British diarist, made a note of having bought some at a market in 1677, though he called it “sparrow grass”, a more colloquial term than “asparagus”.
Asparagus, (or asparagi) named by the Romans, means “the first sprig or sprout of every plant, especially when it be tender”. There are four popular types consumed here in the twenty-first century: green, white, purple and wild. Green is what we usually find at the grocery store or farm stands. Germany goes mad for a couple of months celebrating white asparagus. They have Spargelfests, which are akin to Octoberfest, only they are celebrating the many virtues of asparagus. And the new asparagus crops will be coming to market soon.
Here is an asparagus-centric menu from the International Food and Wine Society’s Celebration of Asparagus Dinner held in England in 2010:
Asparagus mousse & char-grilled asparagus
With air-dried ham, toasted pine nuts, spring onion rings & 10 year old balsamic dressing.
Muscat Réserve, Trimbach 2008
Asparagus & watercress soup
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Lemon-scented salmon fillet
With Jersey Royal new potatoes, roasted asparagus, sweet carrots & sorrel Hollandaise
Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Rhubarb & apple crumble
With vanilla pod ice cream
Clos L’Abeilly, Sauternes 2007
Freshly brewed tea or coffee with Florentines
“The mousse was lively and persistent, the wine light gold in colour and refreshingly dry with a good length.”
But we are wasting time inside here at the computer. It is spring, and time to enjoy the great outdoors and the bounty of asparagus that is rolling our way. Carpe asparagi! Seize your lively and persistent asparagus by the lapels, and cook it with abandon! I have blown on before about our favorite way, which is to roast it on a cookie sheet under the broiler, with a scattering of salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. We also like to roll it up in aluminum foil and toss it on the grill for a few minutes. You can celebrate Friday Night Pizza and toss a handful on the pizza just as it goes in the oven. Or stick a few tender shoots on a piece of baguette with a schmeer of goat cheese. Don’t waste a minute, or a morsel.
Here are some other ideas for your own Spargelfest (Asparagus Festival)!
4 minutes (cooking time, add some more for prep)
15 minutes for Julia Child’s classic hollandaise sauce:
Food52 has a genius of an idea, that they call: Alice B. Toklas’ Asparagus in Salt & Pepper Whipped Cream
20 minutes: Mark Bittman also suggests this heady combo: Asparagus with Miso Butter
25 minutes: The New York Times’ Mark Bittman suggests a hands down favorite Roasted Asparagus Frittata:
And if you are trying to get some reluctant and unruly children to try asparagus, you can always start an Asparagus Race – who will smell asparagus pee first? Who knew that history and culture and a tasty plate of asparagus could lead to so much fun?
“A few Stems of Asparagus eaten, shall give our Urine a disagreable Odour…”
Asparagus “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”