Asparagus has always been a delicacy to me. When I was young, my older sister found a large patch of asparagus growing wild in a wooded area behind the neighborhood grade school. Each spring she would forage her way through the pointy stalks, bringing home with her handfuls of this wonderful vegetable for us all to enjoy. For me, asparagus was a taste sensation that came only once a year and I savored each bite because I knew I what I was eating was special.
Although I like to think it was my sister who discovered asparagus in the early 1980s, the ancient Egyptians were actually eating wild asparagus even before the second pyramid was built. And, it was the Romans who are credited with its cultivation several centuries later, around 200 B.C. Possibly derived from the Persian word Asparag meaning sprout, or maybe the Greek word Aspharagos which means long as one’s throat, one thing is certain: the vegetable we know now as asparagus has a rich and diverse history.
A Sign of Spring
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables to break through the dormant winter soil and can be heralded as a true sign that Spring has sprung. Though modern transportation and growing techniques have made it possible to purchase asparagus from January through July, asparagus is best during the local growing season. Here in California, we harvest asparagus March through April.
Delicate with a distinctly mild flavor, it’s hard to believe that asparagus, a member of the lily family, is related to such powerful vegetables as onion and garlic. High in vitamins A, B-complex and C, the tender very young spears of asparagus are perfect for eating raw like a carrot or chopped in a salad. Larger more mature spears are best when lightly steamed, grilled or roasted in the oven for a only a short amount of time.
Incredibly versatile, asparagus can add a gourmet flair to even the simplest of meals. As a side dish, roasted asparagus is delightful served with a drizzle of oil and infused with fresh lemon juice and chopped almonds.
A Snap to Cook
Hold the asparagus at either end, gently bend the spear until it snaps in two. The asparagus should break naturally at the point where the tender top meets the woody bottom. To ensure tenderness, some cooks like to peel the outer layer of skin stopping about one inch from the top. However, this should not be necessary if the asparagus spears are thin to medium in size and purchased in season.
How To Roast Asparagus
1 bunch fresh asparagus
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice – more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped raw almonds
or 3 tablespoons shaved parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and, if they’re thick, peel them.
- Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely.
- Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
- Roast the asparagus for 12 to 15 minutes, until tender but still crisp.
- Serve warm or chill.