Last Saturday, my partner and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful spring day by making a trip to Prince Edward County. We had a specific agenda – going to Bloomfield’s Casa Lucia to buy a Talavera ceramic sink for our hopefully soon-to-be-renovated bathroom, but we made a couple of stops on our way.
First, the Agrarian Market in Picton to load up on still-warm-from-the-oven bread. On our way out of town, we made a slight detour to check out Lockyer’s Country Gardens, where cars were lined up down the road because the parking lot was long since at capacity. We were not disappointed. The staff were well-informed, cheerful and helpful. We left with our car filled to the brim with hanging baskets of flowers and a mental note to come much earlier in the season next year.
With some concerns about whether we even had room in the car for any more purchases, we got back on track to Bloomfield. We had a hard time deciding on just one sink from the selection available at Casa Lucia, but we managed, then added a Mexican-made mirror to round out our bathroom-to-be purchases.
As we began to make our way back to the ferry, we saw a sign for asparagus, with an arrow pointing down a side road. We made the turn and wound our way to the largest asparagus farm I’ve ever seen. Acres of fields with ruler straight rows of asparagus poking up through the straw surrounded the barn where several people were grading, weighing and packing asparagus in one, two and five pound bags. We walked away with several pounds of the stuff, and my mind began to dance with the cooking possibilities presented by so much asparagus.
From salads . . . .
I had already had a taste of this year’s asparagus a few days earlier, when my partner sliced the first few stalks from our garden into a potato salad. It was just enough to tantalize my taste buds with what was to come (and for the sulfurous byproducts of asparagusic acid to perform their magic on the smell of our pee).
After our trip to PEC, I made a Salade Nicoise for dinner, replacing the traditional green beans with steamed asparagus. In honour of the asparagus, I made an aioli dressing to top the salad, which I served with some of the bread we had bought earlier in the day.
To soups . . . .
I also made a big batch of asparagus stock by trimming the bottom two inches or so off all the asparagus stalks and boiling them in approximately 10 – 12 cups water, with a bit of salt, until the stalks were mush and the stock a delicate green colour. I removed the pot from the heat, pureed the stalks and liquid, then let it cool and then refrigerated it.
A few days later, I made cream of asparagus soup. Here’s what you do.
Take the stock out of the refrigerator and warm it over low heat in a saucepan. Steam 8 – 10 fresh asparagus stalks until they are barely tender, rinse under cold water, then slice and set aside.
Thinly slice the bottom two inches from a pound of asparagus. Melt about ¼ cup butter in a heavy soup pot, then add ½ very finely chopped onion and saute for 3 – 4 minutes. To this, add the sliced uncooked asparagus stems and some salt and pepper and cook it, stirring, for another 2 – 3 minutes. Make a roux by slowly stirring in 4 Tbsp. flour, cooking until the flour is thoroughly blended and just beginning to brown. Add the warmed stock in a steady stream, whisking to incorporate it smoothly. Once the soup is slightly thickened and all the stock has been incorporated, add ½ – 1 cup cream and heat through. Just before serving, stir in the sliced steamed asparagus and heat through.
To salads again . . . .
I’d have trouble deciding what is my favourite way to eat asparagus. Soup is delicious, but so is lightly steamed asparagus with a bit of butter and lemon juice. Brushed with sesame oil, grilled, and served with toasted sesame seeds is also very tasty. There is nothing wrong with an asparagus and leek quiche. Lightly steamed and sliced asparagus can make a flavourful addition to an orzo salad or pasta primavera; Wrap bundles of asparagus in bacon and grill them for an appealing appetizer.
Always near the top of my favourites list is Mollie Katzen’s cold gingered asparagus from her Still Life with Menu Cookbook. I first stumbled upon Katzen’s largely vegetarian recipes decades ago in The Moosewood Cookbook. I use her recipes often: my copy of Moosewood long ago lost its cover, and like the other cookbooks of hers that I have, is well stained from use.
This recipe is worth doubling. You won’t have trouble eating your way through it in one sitting, but it also keeps really well for a day in the fridge. I especially urge you to follow her instruction to steam the asparagus only until “just tender.” You want to have some crunch in this salad. (And, when asparagus season is over, you can keep on making this tasty dish using green beans instead of asparagus.)
There are vegetables that can shine in dessert: carrot cake and zucchini chocolate cake are two good examples. I found a number of asparagus dessert recipes on the internet, but none of them (asparagus bundt cake? asparagus panna cotta?) had enough appeal for me to want to waste any of my precious crop on them.
Imported asparagus is just not worth eating, in my books. We’ll make the most of the local supply over the next few weeks, although not in any desserts, and then let our anticipation for next year’s crop begin.