For me, Spring has officially sprung when I see bright green bundles of asparagus stalks perched upright at the farmer's market or in my local grocery store. I get a thrill not just because this is my favorite vegetable, but because the mere sight of these emerald soldiers brings back a flood of images from my early childhood. I have vague and distant memories of picking strawberries straight from the patch with my grandmother and aunts in Kent County Maryland. After we purchased our overflowing baskets of fresh berries, we would stop by a nearby farm (or maybe it was the same one) and buy asparagus which my Mommom referred to as 'spagrus'. Then we would take it home, clean it, cook it, and serve it alongside a home cooked meal.
It is a wonder that I grew to love asparagus as a young child considering the cooking method of my grandmother and mother. They would boil it, and boil it, and then boil it some more until it became pale and mushy, but still flavorful. As a newlywed, I purchased a kitchen contraption that enabled the asparagus to stand upright in a pot with just a few inches of water. This gadget allowed the asparagus to be quickly steamed, maintaining its bright color and precious nutrients. The drawback to my asparagus steamer, however, was that it took up precious kitchen cabinet space all year, while only being used a handful of times.
Although I don't use the same asparagus recipe as my family, I do use their tried-and-true storing and washing methods. When I get my asparagus home I place it in a tall pitcher with a few inches of water in the bottom and keep it in my refrigerator until it is time to prepare it. I try to cook it as soon as possible after its purchase. To prepare it for cooking, I fill up my kitchen sink with cool fresh tap water. Then I grasp the asparagus stalks in my hands and gently break off the bottom inch or so of each spear. According to my mother the stalks will break naturally allowing the tough end piece to be separated from the tender upper shoot. Next, I float them in the water, swirling them gently with my hand. Once the water has become still, I leave them undisturbed allowing any dirt or grit to float to the bottom while the vegetables float to the top. Lastly, I carefully remove the asparagus from the water and place it on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Currently my preferred method of cooking is roasting. I place my clean and dry asparagus stalks on a baking sheet, toss them with olive oil, and season them with freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt. Sometimes I vary the seasonings by adding lemon pepper or other dried herbs such as thyme, oregano, or basil. I then roast the seasoned asparagus in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks. Roasting results in crisp and tasty asparagus that my youngest sons call trees and eat straight from the pan like potato chips. The asparagus can be served as is or sprinkled with lemon zest or freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
I am grateful that Spring has sprung and that my favorite vegetable is in season. I am also thankful that something as simple as a stalk of asparagus has the power to conjure up precious memories of long ago. I fondly remember Springs when I got to spend time with my grandmother and acquire knowledge that would still be with me almost forty years later. Happy Spring!
Roasted Asparagus Recipe
1 pound asparagus spears, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Kosher Salt, to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
optional seasonings: 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, oregano, and basil; or 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
optional garnish: sprinkle with freshly grated lemon zest or Parmesan cheese after cooking
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss the prepared asparagus on a baking sheet with olive oil and spices. Shake sheet gently until the stalks are in a single layer.
- Bake uncovered for 12 to 15 minutes or until it is crisp-tender (a knife can be easily inserted into the thickest stalk and the tops will be crispy). Roasting time will vary depending on the thickness of the asparagus spears.
- Garnish as desired and serve hot.
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