Can I help it if I wear my culinary heart on my sleeve?
Those who know me, especially my farmer buddies at my local market, know that this is the time of year I SWOON over what I call those elegant green long ladies of spring.
I start tapping my foot in late winter, impatient for the day when they’ll arrive. Chris, my asparagus dealer who sadly is no longer with us, would sidle up to me and whisper, One week. Enough said. The long ladies were about to make their entrance, stage right, strutting like slender Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. But oh, so briefly! In California, their appearance lasts only from the end of February to May -- then gone!
During this brief period, as my dear husband knows, we will be eating asparagus in all its myriad enchanting guises as often as common decency will allow. Once captivated, always enthralled! And if you are not yet a hardcore fan, I strongly recommend considering asparagus as a marvelous obsession.
The wonders, and particulars, of asparagus
Asparagus is anti-inflammatory, and inflammation, as we now know, contributes to cancer proliferation and other disease states. Asparagus is full of antioxidants that help in DNA synthesis and repair; in fact, it contains more glutathione than any other vegetable or fruit. Glutathione is lauded as an uber antioxidant because it is such a powerful liver cleanser. Eating asparagus in season means we’re getting precisely what we need this time of year -- spring cleaning! In addition, asparagus contains the soluble fiber inulin, which helps bacteria beneficial to digestion flourish in the lower intestine. It’s also particularly rich in the B vitamin folate, and high folate levels are thought to reduce blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Thus asparagus is a superstar in ALL of my healthy cookbooks, most recently The Healthy Mind Cookbook, because in addition to the above accolades, it improves cognitive functioning, mental energy and mood.
If you can find purple asparagus, try it! The purple hue indicates high levels of anthocyanidins, potent antioxidant flavonoids that have protective anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. The flavor is mild, nutty and sweet, 20% sweeter than green asparagus.
Have I made my healthy case?
How about cooking and most of all -- flavor?
Gone are the days when asparagus was boiled until it resembled a gray Seattle drizzle. Now we roast asparagus until it becomes sweet and caramelized in a way that’s hard to believe until it’s tasted!
A wise Italian cook gave me the inside skinny on preparing asparagus. She said it’s best to peel away the tough, stringy outer layer to expose the sweet flesh beneath. Toss the peeled stalks with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and pop into a 400 degree oven in a single layer. When they’ve finished roasting -- and we’re not talking a lot of time here, maybe 9 minutes -- you’ll have a real treat. Roasted asparagus is so naturally sweet it’s like eating candy! You don’t believe me now, but try a piece as you take the asparagus out of the oven and you’ll be lucky if the rest of the stalks make it to the table.
Italian cooks also toss it into salads with lettuce and lemon and a really good shaved parmesan.
This utterly delicious, elegant salad is one I created in memory of my farmer buddy, Chris, to honor the many rhapsodic asparagus discussions we had ensconced on the tailgate of his pickup truck in the springtime. A favorite of readers of The Longevity Kitchen, It’s by no means too great a challenge for a family dinner, yet enchanting enough for a company-is-coming buffet. In other words, this could be a great addition to your repertoire.
This soup is another easy, breezy, spring DELIGHT, in which asparagus is paired with pistachio as part of the minty, creamy topping. I mean, can you stand it? This is some serious yum in a bowl.