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Archive for Wednesday, April 22, 1998

TENDERNESS A SURE SIGN OF FRESH ASPARAGUS

April 22, 1998

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If you don't like asparagus, I would imagine that, during April, you feel something like a fish on the beach.

At our house, asparagus is an almost daily ritual this time of year. Even if we don't have time to cook it, we have to keep it picked. A spear left standing one day too long will grow tall and turn tough, and its head will feather.

At that point, it ceases to be food and becomes ornamental vegetation. We leave our asparagus plants standing to feed the roots but also because they add interest to the landscape.

Anyone who takes the time and trouble to install an asparagus patch is making an investment for the future. It generally takes three years for planted roots -- or crowns, as they're called -- to produce a reliable supply of asparagus. But once the plants are established, you'll have your own perennial crop for decades to come.

The other benefit of planting an asparagus patch is the quality of the asparagus you'll be eating. With any fresh vegetable, the taste is best just after picking. However, fresh-cut young asparagus is infinitely more tender than the spears you buy in the store several days after harvest.

I am amused when I run across recipes that ask me to peel my asparagus spears. Although that's a technique for salvaging asparagus that has grown tough -- usually the result of standing too long or of warm weather, it simply isn't necessary when you're working with fresh, peak-of-the-season asparagus. In fact, you'll obliterate tender, thin-skinned asparagus if you try to run a vegetable peeler over it.

I probably waste more asparagus than most people when I trim the spears. To make sure I'm getting rid of the tough lower end, I bend the spear from the base up until I find the point at which it snaps easily. The snap method is much more reliable than using a knife for finding the point of tenderness in the lower stalk.

I'm not particular about how I eat my asparagus as long as it hasn't been cooked to a pulp. I've liked it in recent years sauteed until warmed through, and then added to a ham and egg omelet or dusted with ground Parmesan and served as a side dish.

The freshest asparagus also is delicious eaten cold. Served with a dressing, cold asparagus can easily substitute for salad. To use asparagus this way, the spears should first be trimmed and blanched for about three minutes, or until tender but still firm, and then chilled.

I found this simple recipe in Bert Greene's ``Greene on Greens'' (Workman, $16.95 in paper), an informative cookbook that tells you everything you could possible want to know about buying and preparing vegetables.

Classic Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed (and peeled, if necessary)

1 small shallot, minced

1 small clove garlic, crushed

ch it snaps easily. The snap method is much more reliable than using a knife for finding the point of tenderneseaspoons red wine vinegar

not particular about how I eat my asparagus as long as it hasn't been cooked to a pulp. I've liked it in recent years sauteed until warmed through, and then added to a ham and egg omelet or dusted with ground Parmesan and served as a side dish.

The freshest asparagus also is delicious eaten cold. Served with a dressing, cold asparagus can easily substitute for salad. To use asparagus this way, the spears should first be trimmed and blanched for about three minutes, or until tender but still firm, and then chilled.

I found this simple recipe in Bert Greene's ``Greene on Greens'' (Workman, $16.95 in paper), an informative cookbook that tells you everything you could possible want to know about buying and preparing vegetables.

Classic Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed (and peeled, if necessary)

1 small shallot, minced

1 small clove garlic, crushed

ch it snaps easily. The snap method is much more reliable than using a knife for finding the point of tendernes

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