Monday, May 28, 2012

Asparagus Season

                                              Harbinger of Spring               

Asparagus bundles at the Monterey Market in Berkeley

My green bin and I celebrate spring with ASPARAGUS. From March to May I feast almost daily on the sweet herbaceous tips and meaty spears of this treasured springtime staple while green bin, my kitchen companion, gets its fill of woody ends and slippery peels. I learned long ago to peel the stalks with my favorite wood-handled Henckels peeler, so little goes uneaten and green bin gets its share. Just when we are tiring of wintry Brussels sprouts, cabbage,  thick-ribbed kale and chard, out bursts this novel treat. First I notice that  Full Belly Farm is offering a few bunches to tease the impatient shoppers at our Tuesday Farmers' Market. These bundles disappear quickly. But soon  large quantities pop out at all the Berkeley markets and we can pick and choose: purple or green, thick or thin, tips or spears, organic or not.

Purple Asparagus from Riverdog Farm Saturday's Market
At the height of the season Riverdog offers tender tips as well as bunches

 I always head straight for the tips which are delicious and a better value.  Fortunately, I am often the only one scooping up these delectables.  I wonder if it is because it is more work to select each spear than to grab a tethered bunch. As a fellow shopper quipped " That is my kind of work!"

Safely home with my bounty, I try to remember  my favorite asparagus recipes.  Every year I make a delicious Sicilian soup with rice, pancetta, onion and asparagus from The Best of Italian Cooking  by Waverly Root;  and I'm dreaming about the fabulous Savory Bread Pudding layered with Leeks,Asparagus, Fontina and Fresh Herbs in Georgeanne Brennan's beautiful cookbook  Potager.  I create pastas incorporating other spring vegetables  like sugar snap  peas, snow peas, green garlic and spring onions now  flooding the markets.

Sugar snap peas and Fava beans offered  by Catalan Farm at the Berkeley Farmers Market

 And I always get around to Chop Chop Salad, an intriguing stir-fry recipe that I  discovered years ago in Gourmet Magazine.  It includes tuna, or perhaps salmon, carrots, beans (not yet in season here but imported form Mexico), onions  and more. This is a hard recipe to track down since it is not listed as such on the Epicurious website (where recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit are published).  I finally find it again in the book Gourmet Every Day and it's actually called "Stir fry tuna 'chop chop' salad."  I think "chop chop salad" is catchier  but that always leads to a long search. Of course, since I prefer the simplest method, I usually steam my asparagus and sometimes roast it at  a high temperature coated in olive oil and salt. But my favorite preparation is one I found in Saveur Magazine  about five years ago.  I make this one almost weekly during the season; it's called "Asparagi alla Milanese".  The word "Milanese" refers to the fact that the recipe contains butter instead of olive oil,  not that it comes from Milan. It contains only four ingredients but the result is pure delight. Just steam approximately ten asparagus spears per person, slip one or two eggs, fried in butter,  onto the warm spears and then sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese. That's it!  Beautiful, easy and as good as it gets. Try it while the season lasts.

Asparagi alla Milanese- Asparagus,butter, eggs and Parmesan cheese
I often make this for Sunday supper using up the vegetables I bought the day before. Sometimes I add ham or fresh peas which are coming in season. And because it is such a simple meal, the only scraps are eggshells, peels and pods, making for an easy evening for My Green Bin.

I've decided to feature a pertinent book in each of my blogs whenever possible. Today I'm recommending a classic,  Stalking the Wild Asparagus,  first published by David McKay in 1962. This book is about  gathering wild food and making use of it.  Euell Gibbons, the author, foraged for multitudes of wild species all his life. He wrote about the plants, ate them and shared his  adventures and recipes in this collection. His style is delightful and his enthusiasm is infectious. There is a wonderful chapter about his boyhood experiences  stalking wild asparagus in New Mexico, which is, of course, why I'm mentioning him in this blog. The book has been reprinted many times, and pictured below is the field guide edition published in 1970. I own this version and I love the cover photo. Foraging is a popular activity in my area and he was one of the first to  describe its joys and usefulness.

Cover of the Field Guide  Edition  from 1970 

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