It’s nearly a month past the first day of spring and Walla Walla is finally starting to show signs that the season has arrived. Trees are in bloom around town, colorful flowers are popping up everywhere and warm days intermix with wet, cloudy ones. I love this time of year. But for me, the season doesn’t officially begin until the local asparagus arrives.
Last week I put on an event and asparagus was on the menu. Rather than buy the California version, I called my favorite local farmers to see if anyone had asparagus available yet. Lucky for me, Alan Schreiber, of Schreiber and Sons out of Pasco, was picking his first asparagus of the season that day! I jumped in my car and didn’t think twice about making the trek to the Tri-cities. Having the first-pick of the season was well worth the three-hour drive, and my guests appreciated and enjoyed it as well.
Since then, I’ve heard through the foodie grapevine that local Walla Walla farmers are picking their own asparagus very soon and will have it available at various locations around town. The Worm Ranch on Wallula Road expects to have some this week and the Ol’ Timers usually place an ad in the UB when theirs is available.
For those not so excited as I to make the trek all around town for a single bunch of asparagus, many of the local markets are now carrying Washington-grown asparagus. If you’ve never tried asparagus, you are in for a treat! It’s delicate crisp flavor is really like nothing else. To me it tastes like spring, others compare it to artichokes or the heart of the broccoli stem. No matter how you describe it, it’s delicious and oh-so-good for you.
People have been eating and enjoying asparagus for thousands of years. There is even a recipe for asparagus in the oldest surviving recipe book, Apicius’s De re coquinaria. Asparagus is low in calories and is very low in sodium. It is a good source of vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium and antioxidants such as Vitamin A and C, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that helps insulin transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
There are as many ways to prepare asparagus as there are ways to describe it. I love it simply sauteed al dente, with a pat of butter, sprinkle of salt and squeeze of lemon. Or grilled over hot coals and drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Baking it with some olive oil and parmesan is nice as well. Some like to serve it with a hollandaise sauce, bake it in a quiche or on a pizza with olive oil and garlic. Graze makes a lovely asparagus panini with bechamel sauce. Anyway you decide to cook it, enjoy it while the local stuff is still available. Asparagus has a short season, from April to June, and once it’s gone, we have to wait a whole year before we can enjoy it fresh once again.
We will be having a asparagus tasting event this Saturday, April 28th. For those brand-new to asparagus, or those seasoned asparagus connoisseurs, come join us for a fun afternoon of asparagus bites and conversation. Contact me directly for more info.
How to Prepare Asparagus:
Wash with cold water. Take one asparagus spear and bend the lower half until it snaps. The lower half will be tough and semi-woody. Take the cut upper portion and lay it next to the rest of the bunch. Cut the others where the first spear snapped. Now they are ready for cooking!
Alternately, you can peel the lower portion of the spear rather than breaking them off. I prefer the snapping/cutting version.
Simple Lemon Butter Sauteed Asparagus
1 lb. Asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon butter
dash of olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lemon, juice and zest
Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add butter and olive oil until melted. Add asparagus to pan and stir to coat in butter. Cook until bright green and just tender. Remove from heat, sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest and plate. Just before serving, drizzle with lemon juice.
Steamed Asparagus with Creamy Tarragon Sauce
2 bunches asparagus, tough ends trimmed
1/2 cup plain yogurt
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Put asparagus in a steamer basket, cover and steam until tender-crisp, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk yogurt, mayonnaise, tarragon, lemon juice, water, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle the sauce over the asparagus. Serve warm or cold.