May is ‘National Asparagus Month’ so what better time to plan a menu or menus around this delectable vegetable. Asparagus which are perennials are native to Central and Southern Europe and Central and West Asia. Today they are cultivated world-wide and are especially favored in the United States.
There are several varieties of Asparagus available in the Super Markets and at the local Farmer’s Markets. Green is the most commonly available variety with White and Purple also being available. The White Variety tend to have less flavor than the Green ones and are very popular in Belgium, Holland, Southern Germany and Spain. Here in California the White and Purple are almost always more expensive than the Green.
Spring is the ideal time to harvest and eat young and tender Asparagus. There are several ways to cook them. For eons, the accepted way to cook Asparagus was to stand them up in a tall pot with an inch or two of water at the bottom and to just steam them. If you buy young Asparagus with slender stalks, you can just steam them in a steamer (mine is a round one and the asparagus have to be lain flat), or microwave them (1- 2 minutes is usually sufficient). One of my favorite ways to cooks Asparagus is to place them in a shallow roasting pan, sprinkle them with Sea Salt, Olive Oil and julienned Basil and then roast them in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes or until the Asparagus are tender. Add a few grape tomatoes for color and you have a beautiful and delicious vegetable dish with very little effort. roasted-asparagus/
Supposedly, because Asparagus tips have to push their way up through the dirt, the tips can contain grains of earth so you want to wash them well. I actually have never seen Asparagus tips with dirt on them and usually I just rinse them off with cold water. The books tell you to soak them thoroughly to remove dirt but if on close inspection you do not see any dirt, just rinse them. Soaking any vegetable for a long period of time will also leach out valuable nutrients.
If you are one of those people that prefer the tips to the stalks and cut off a good portion of the stalks before cooking your Asparagus, please DO NOT THROW OUT THE CUT OFF PORTIONS! The stalks make a wonderful Cream of Asparagus Soup. Just cook the stalks in Chicken or Vegetable Broth or even Water until they are very tender. Then puree them in your Food Processor or Blender. Make a Béchamel Sauce by melting 4 Tbsps. of Butter and then stirring in 4 Tbsps. of Flour. Cook for a minute or so to remove the starchy taste from the Flour and the add two cups of Cream or Milk and cook until thick. Add enough of the Béchamel Sauce to the Asparagus Puree to create your soup. Season to taste with Salt and White Pepper. Voila, you have a very easy to make Cream of Asparagus Soup made out of the stalks that you were probably going to throw out. soups-chowders/cream-of-asparagus-soup/
Finally, next time you go to the market pick up some Asparagus and experiment with them or just follow one of the recipes posted here.