Asparagus Season! Asparagus Season!

In my mind, the argument for eating seasonally and locally can be summed up in one word: Asparagus.

I try to eat as locally as possible across the board, and certainly all foods taste better the fresher they are. Even the fastest shipping methods can alter the flavor and texture of all veggies for sure, but none quite so much as my beloved asparagus. Asparagus is where I truly draw the line at eating out of season, refusing to purchase it in January, because it’s simply a shell of the real, most succulent deal, having been shipped thousands of miles from Chile or Argentina.

This refusal to eat it year-round results in a yearning that lasts most of the year and an almost Pavlovian link for me between spring and asparagus. It is one of the earliest vegetables to arrive at the scene, on the heels of wild ramps, just before fresh peas sing their early summer song, and I begin to have asparagus dreams at the earliest sign of winter’s end, salivating like Pavlov’s dogs (with apologies for that image). Spring came early this year, bringing warm days and bare legs nearly two months before it was time for asparagus to peek out of the ground. The asparagus craving started early, too, spurred on by summery days and sandals, but the asparagus itself did not show up at the farmer’s market in force until yesterday.

A fellow market-going lady standing over the bunches smiled at me when I arrived at the Grand Army greenmarket, exclaimed that it seemed pricey. I told her what I have just told you, that I love it deeply, that I only eat it now, that it’s in a little early and that larger bunches may be available soon for that same price, but that she ought to snatch some up. She asked how to pick the best bunches, if she should be looking for tight asparagus tips, if fat or thin was better. I told her that yes, tight tips were the best sign, but that it was so early, everything before us so brand new, that it was all in good shape (the selection will surely become more disparate as the season progresses). I told her that my momma raised me to love the fat, juicy stalks the best, but that thickness is not an indication of tenderness. I explained that I like to get a range of thicknesses, that my favorite thing is to roast the asparagus at a high heat, that the thicker stalks get sublimely juicy while the thinner wilt quickly and caramelize, that the variety is wonderful. And then I bought 3 bunches of asparagus, along with an extremely affordable little bundle of arugula, and marched proudly home.

I had gone to the market early, just after rolling out of bed, in hopes of snatching up some veggies before they were snatched up by someone else, so I had not yet had breakfast. I spent a good portion of my walk home from the market thinking about the brunch applications of asparagus. I opted to roast asparagus, as is my wont, and to serve it over soft polenta with poached eggs.

The first step in asparagus preparation is to soak it. I just plug up my sink and let it soak there, being sure to swish it around lots. Asparagus likes to grow in sandy soil, and its bud-like tips are perfect for holding onto grit. Soak and clean the asparagus and trim the bottom ends. You can do this either with a paring knife, slicing off the bottom end and peeling the tough layers from the base, or simply by grasping the asparagus with one hand in the middle of the stalk, the other at the very bottom, and snapping it. It will break at the junction between tender, tasty stalk and tough end.

Preheat your oven to 400º or a little higher, lay your asparagus out in a single layer on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt.

Roast the asparagus for 8 minutes or so, then flip it over by jostling the pan or rolling the stalks over with a spatula, and cook for another 8 minutes, until it feels tender when pierced with a fork. Take it out of the oven, and squeeze fresh lemon juice all over it. Ordinarily, I would simply eat it with my fingers standing at the counter, or, if feeling fancy, transfer it to a plate and eat it with my fingers sitting in a chair. Because it was breakfast time, I spooned soft, sage-and-pecorino-laced polenta into dishes, laid the asparagus over it, and topped with poached eggs. It was a richer brunch than I usually serve up, but an appropriately lavish way to welcome asparagus season, to open up to spring.

For those of you who doubt the superiority of local over non-local foods, I urge you to do a taste test today, while asparagus season is still in swing. Get yourself to a farmer’s market during this short growing season, get some super fresh asparagus, and compare it to the non-local stuff that is surely still available in your supermarket. You’ll surely see what the fuss is about.


8 responses to “Asparagus Season! Asparagus Season!

  1. Yummmmmm! I love your writing and share your passion for asparagus. The annual springtime Fete aux Asperges is one of my favorite things about Switzerland (and that includes the beauty of the Alps). What a gorgeous brunch idea, complete with luscious photographs! Must try it this week. Thanks as always for the inspiration and the infectious enthusiasm!

  2. Meggie — awesome write-up. I usually roast my asparagus the same way (although maybe a few minutes shorter on each side) and adore it.

    But two weeks ago I fancied up and tried a new recipe for a Passover dish I had promised. The recipe called for sauteeing in olive oil, salt, and a healthy set of shakes of cumin and then the addition of a small amount of orange juice at the end. It was MAAAAHvelous. Since then I’ve tried experimenting with various cumin-laden asparagi, and they’re all good. Give it a try sometime!

    Love your writing, and love reading about Yo Momma.


  3. Fete aux Asperges sounds perfect! Let’s go!

    And Robin, it’s so hard for me to branch away from the basic roasted asparagus that I love so much, but I’ll have to give the cumin a whirl — though I find the smokey, subtle spiciness of cumin somewhat addictive in its own right, and this combination might be a recipe for ruinous obsession. Time will tell.

  4. Thank you for the heads up on what’s starting to peek out at the NYC farmers markets…and the prep tips.

    I’m waiting with baited breath for the corn. I froze quite a bit last year, but it has run out. The first thing I made with store-bought frozen corn (once my local/frozen supplies were depleted) made me want to cry. Understand the Pavlovian image. It’s just for corn in my case.

  5. i love this ode to asparagus! it is really, truly a beautiful spring vegetable. we hoped to go to an asparagus festival this weekend in empire, mi where everything is asparagus – but we didn’t make it. i didn’t know about the soaking, but i will do that with our farmer’s market asparagus this week that i hope to use for an asparagus quiche!

  6. This looks seriously amazing. I had to take a break from my crazy sewing giveaway entering to read this post and it made me really hungry!

  7. Ooooh. I can hardly wait for asparagus to start showing up at our famers’ markets!

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