October 25, 2014

The king of spring: Sweet spires of asparagus

Asparagus brings flavor to spring.

Asparagus brings flavor to spring.Asparagus brings flavor to spring.Spring has arrived, heralded by bright, beautiful flowers, brilliant blue skies and the most regal of all vegetables, asparagus!  A treasure of New England gardeners, the appearance of the slender spires rising up from the soil is cause for a seasonal celebration.

Freshly picked asparagus is a marvel of snappy tender sweetness. So many sensational dishes can be prepared with asparagus. A spring salad of raw, thinly shaved asparagus drizzled with a bit of hazelnut or walnut oil and showered with fine shards of salty pecorino cheese is delightful. Many cooks indulge their love of asparagus with a traditional spring preparation of lightly steamed asparagus spears laid atop a piece of good bread, lightly toasted, topped off with a fried or scrambled egg. Add a generous grind of fresh black pepper and you have a meal fit for royalty.

Asparagus is one of the oldest vegetables known to man and was a prized delicacy for the ancient Greeks and Romans. You would find asparagus at the finest of Victorian dinner parties and those mavens of etiquette deemed eating asparagus with the fingers perfectly acceptable. 

To this day, farmers everywhere appreciate the long lasting value of this crop, that once established will yield it’s bounty for many years to come.

Asparagus is a gorgeous vegetable, with its lovely dark green stalks crowned with purply-green tips. A pretty platter heaped with steamed or blanched asparagus is perfect for a spring dinner party. Serve with a light lemon vinaigrette and plenty of lemon zest.

Tremendously healthy asparagus is loaded with vital nutrients, such as fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as powerful antioxidants that may help combat the onset of certain cancers. Asparagus may also help fight cognitive decline, while serving as a natural diuretic, releasing fluids and ridding the body of excess salt.

At the market, look for asparagus with glossy green color and compact purple tips, with no sign of yellowing.  Fairly perishable, asparagus should be used within a couple of days. Store in the vegetable crisper until ready to use, then give it a good washing and snap or cut off the woody bottom end of the stalks. Many peel the stalks, but do this only if your personal preference demands. Proceed with your recipe and be ready to dine like a king as you prepare your delicious life!

Spring Asparagus Salad

Serves 2 generously.

1 bunch fresh asparagus spears

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil or hazelnut oil

1/3 cup super thin slices of parmigiana, pecorino or your favorite Italian table cheese

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt

Wash the asparagus, break off the bottom woody end of the stems. Using a very sharp vegetable peeler or paring knife, shave long strips off each spear. If you have a few little nubs left, use them as well. Pile the shavings into a bowl and pour oil over. Massage with your fingers until all shavings  are lightly coated with oil. 

Divide between 2 plates. Sprinkle with lemon zest, season to taste with black pepper and a tiny bit of sea salt. Drizzle with a bit more oil if desired, scatter cheese shards over and enjoy. 

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP is certified in holistic health counseling by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. As The Conscious Cook, she specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes to students of all ages, so they can prepare a delicious life. She emphasizes the use of healthy, natural ingredients and easy to prepare recipes.

For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net.