Waiting for Asparagus

If you haven’t yet read Barbara Kingsolver’s foray into nonfiction, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life then unfortunately, you’re missing an intellectually delicious soul-quenching treat. Because Kingsolver’s day job is as a novelist, this is more than your average nonfiction ode to food. Her prose rises to the level of the highest quality literary fiction.

If you’re not familiar with this title, the gist is that the author and her family decided to experiment with homesteading for a period of a year. She and her husband and their two daughters ate only what they could grow themselves on their small farmstead or purchase locally. (Exceptions were made for one pre-chosen ingredient for each member of the family that wouldn’t be obtainable by this method. (By my recollection chocolate, olive oil, coffee, and flour were the choices). Not only does the family grow and preserve their own vegetables, but they raise turkeys and chickens for meat and eggs and get to know all the other local farmers market vendors. They explore issues of community and commerce along with reinventing many of their own habits surrounding food.

One of my favorite parts is her chapter on asparagus. (Yes, there’s an entire chapter just on asparagus, and when you read it you’ll learn why this little veg deserves such). As the first vegetable to come into season in most regions it announces the beginning of spring and a soon-to-be abundance of tasty and nutritious greens. We’ve been gobbling our fair share at my house and though the season is approaching its conclusion, I thought I’d share just a paragraph here.

young asparagus shoot

Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they’re good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move “eating” in the consumer’s mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation. It’s hard to reduce our modern complex of food choices to unifying principles, but this is the one that generally works: eating home-cooked meals from whole, in-season ingredients obtained from the most local source available is eating well, in every sense. Good for the habitat, good for the body. 

In the spirit of asparagus and the upcoming spring harvest, (lettuce and other greens are starting to appear), I’m including my favorite asparagus recipe. This works best on the grill, but a skillet can work in a pinch.

Grilled Asparagus with Rosemary Oil & Parmesan (adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Cooking from the Farmers’ Market

1/2 tsp. chopped rosemary (fresh if possible)

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

2 to 2 1/2 lb. asparagus, tough ends removed

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, mix together the chopped rosemary and the olive oil. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour.

Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for direct grilling over high heat (or use a stovetop grill pan). Oil the grill rack.

Bring a wide, shallow saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil until tender but still crisp, 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and immerse in a bowl of ice water. When cool, drain and pat dry with a kitchen towel.

Put the spears on a plate or baking sheet and drizzle evenly with the rosemary oil and season with salt.

Grill the asparagus (if using a grill, take care to place them across the bars so they don’t fall into the fire) until they blister, 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve right away. Serves 4.

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