Hola hola, rabble-rousers!<-------- Boy, do I like that word.
I'm pretty excited right now as I sit and look out the window at our flowering apple trees-never mind the grey sky! Because it's ASPARAGUS season! Forget that I spent several dedicated years trying to mow over our asparagus patch at the old house as a teen, forget that I lied when asked about the uniform sleekness of the patch...multiple times. None of that matters because now I am a quasi adult and spontaneously like my vegetables. Except, of course, mushrooms. Bluurgh is all I have to say on that subject.
But I digress.
Really folks, it's a wonderful thing to eat, look at, and grow. The darn thing is a wonder; shooting spears at 6-8 inches a day at its prime off of its underground crown, which can live as long as 20 years! So I bet that patch is still going strong back at the old house....
For all you green fanatics, Ben and I want to clear some things up real quick when it comes to this delightful spring green. Sprue Asparagus is the thin first spears of a crop and sometimes sold as more tender and flavorful and whatnot. We call bull and so does Good Eats host Alton Brown. He wittily named Sprue as the supermodels of Asparagus-watery and insubstantial. It does NOT have the amount of fiber and nutrients that the later thicker stalks will have...a certain "fat bottomed girls" song comes to mind. So, the whole "I'll eat the Sprue because it's tender and high class" is really someone on the farm and supermarket saying, "let's get rid of these by saying they are tender." Now you know. Say No to Sprue!
Same thing goes for white asparagus. It's HUGE over in Europe, my boyfriend lived in Germany for awhile and talked about how white asparagus was super pricey and everyone went nuts over it. Well folks, they went nuts for albino greens. Does that sound sensible to you? DOES IT???! It doesn't to me. It sounds hypocritical. And I don't trust hypocritical food.
If you didn't know before, you obtain white asparagus by covering up the young asparagus so it decreases its exposure to sunlight, thus eliminating the chlorophyll that is almost uniformly present in veggies. Its supporters say that the white stuff tastes less bitter and is more tender. Again with the tender. You know what should be tender? Babies. Kisses. Spinach.
Asparagus is a champion. It is strong, vital, tall, and full of fiber that keeps you vital and regular. Great qualities in a person and a veggie. You know what tender does for you? Makes you a target for bears, lions, man-eating aliens, and poorly written romance comedies. Not great qualities if you want to start and raise a family, folks.
So, what is the difference between green and white asparagus? It only has one thing more than green asparagus-sugars, so more calories. While on the other hand, one of the best things about green asparagus is the presence of "anthocyans, which are responsible for the purplish coloring of the green asparagus, protect the cardiovascular system." We should all follow the advice of Beyonce-"like a ghost, I'll be gone." Go for something solid!
Now-the most important part of asparagus is storage prep and prep before cooking. If you buy asparagus from a farmer's market or supermarket, plan to eat it as soon as possible. The flavor quickly goes downhill so freshness is key. The spears are literally the flowers of the plant, so like Alton Brown says, treat them like flowers. Cut the bottom inch off the stalk, put them in water, and place a loose plastic bag over top. Remove the rubber band before you stick the bundle in the fridge!
Before you buy your bunch of spears though, check that they aren't limp, cracked at the bottom, rotting at the top, or just plain scary. Take your right to buy great produce firmly in hand. Empower yourself at the market.
Just so you know, You Tube has the Good Eats "Age of Asparagus" episode in three parts-I am embedding one but I highly recommend you watch the whole thing-I repeat a lot of the info because it is so good!
Next important piece of information: when you go to cook the asparagus and you cut off part of the stalk do not immediately pitch it. You always have options: stalks are great for veggie stocks and you can toss them in your compost. Second: cook asparagus briefly to keep maximum nutrients and firmness. This means NO BOILING VEGGIES. If you don't have dentures, please, please, please do not boil. The heated water saps out all the goodness from your veggie. But if you want to cook it, you again have options. Alton points out two great ones: microwaving in a damp paper towel, or roasting on aluminum foil at 500 degrees for 5 minutes, each side, with olive oil/butter and some kosher salt. Grate some lemon zest over that and BING! Delish asparagus. Ben is a big proponent of the roasting and I wholeheartedly agree with that, but me and mon cherie want that wrapped in prosciutto.
Final note folks: we grow both regular green and purple asparagus. Ben does say that the purple appears more tender (sigh) because it snaps easier and it isn't an overwhelming flavor-so pairs well with many dishes. Now-purple food is usually great stuff because the color means the presence of nutrients. It has higher levels of the anthocyanins which have higher amounts of antioxidants. "Antioxidants help fight off free radicals that cause damage to your cells, or eliminate these toxins from your body, thus protecting you from chronic illnesses, like cancer. In addition to antioxidants, purple asparagus is also rich in B vitamins that help keep your skin, nails and hair healthy." For the history buffs out there, the Chinese, Greeks, and Romans used it for digestive issues. (Can't get any more "heritage" than something used thousands of years ago.) "Purple asparagus was found to have diuretic and laxative properties that help flush out toxins from the body. The diuretic effects of purple asparagus also help alleviate bloating and cramps during menstruation."
It's kind of a big deal, amIright?
We look forward to seeing you at market-Silver Spring, MD and Carlisle, PA this Saturday morning 9am to 1 pm! If you have any great recipes that you will bet your hat on, share them with us. I compiled a list of rhubarb and blueberry recipes that made my mouth drool for an hour before lunch today. It's on our website under recipes...makes sense.
I wish you well and happy shopping for fresh, local goods!