Asparagus is all the rage these days, as tis the season. The Oregonian Food Day insert last week ran a spread on the green spears, and food blogs abound with tales and recipes.
Asparagus has a rich history, and its name is derived from the Ancient Greeks. Native Americans prized the vegetable for their medicinal purposes.
As early as 200 B.C. the Romans had how-to-grow directions for asparagus. They enjoyed it in season and were the first to preserve it by freezing. In the 1st Century fast chariots and runners took asparagus from the Tiber River area to the snowline of the Alps where it was kept for six months until the Feast of Epicurus. Roman emperors maintained special asparagus fleets to gather and carry the choicest spears to the empire. The characteristics of asparagus were so well-known to the ancients that Emperor Caesar Augustus described “haste” to his underlings as being “quicker than you can cook asparagus”
Stateside, green asparagus is much more common than white, which is terribly expensive. White and green asparagus are the same plant – the albino spears are grown and cultivated sans sunlight so chlorophyll is not given an opportunity to develop. For some reason, this also gives white asparagus a much more phallic appearance. You should take this into account.
Not being that familiar with white asparagus (mostly due to the hefty price tag and not the aforementioned penis envy), I understand it is much more common to peel it before cooking. All asparagus is typically snipped at the end, to remove the dense, fibrous stems. Don’t throw them away—they are great for soups. The really tough ends I’ll boil to create stock (and then discard), while the mid-to-ends get pureed with stock and cream, and the tips get a quick blanche before being used to sprinkle as garnish. Yum.
Delicious Days introduces us to purple asparagus and a delightful spanish tortilla recipe with julienned bacon and fresh chili.
Kitchenography gives us a fried asparagus that looks amazing. I love tempura, and asparagus is a worthy candidate. The author and comments claim the photos of the end result look strange and “wrong,” but I couldn’t disagree more.
Local Portland culinary powerhouse Park Kitchen has their own food blog now, and their inaugural post (written by chef de cuisine David Padberg) details the merits of “the definitive spring vegetable”.
A particular favorite of mine is Chinese style stir-fried asparagus. Tiger & Strawberries gives us a very tasty lamb stir fry recipe.
Lastly, to answer your burning question, “Why does asparagus make my pee smell?.” Answer: it just does.