May 25, 2010
I’m crazy about asparagus. I’ve loved it since childhood, when a wise adult whispered to me that it was a powerful source of vitamin C—the secret stuff that makes adults smarter and stronger than kids, they explained conspiratorially. Being the sort of impatient kid who that appealed to (funny how great being a grown-up seems until you actually become one, isn’t it?), I promptly declared that asparagus was my favorite vegetable.
My mother always prepared it very simply, by steaming it in the microwave in a few tablespoons of water, just long enough to soften the stalks but not so long that they lost their lovely brightness and slight crunch. She topped it with those “butter flavor sprinkles” that were all the rage in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Weird stuff, but it actually tasted good. At the table, I struggled to look nonchalant while mentally calculating everyone’s fair share (If there are 24 stalks, we each get 6…hey! Mom is taking 7! Should I say something? Well, she did make it…) and hoping someone might be too full to finish theirs.
As an adult, asparagus is still my favorite vegetable at this time of year. The rubbery stalks sold in the supermarket in the dead of winter, picked many miles and days distant, just can’t compare to the taste of fresh local asparagus in springtime. How do I love it? Let me count the ways…
1. Oven-roasted. This is how I prepare asparagus most often, because it’s quick and delicious. Wash and trim spears, lightly peel the base of tougher stalks, and pat dry. Place on a baking sheet and mist or drizzle with olive oil, rolling each spear to coat. Sprinkle with salt and fresh-ground pepper, and bake at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Got that? If not, see The Pioneer Woman’s step-by-step guide. Right before serving, shave some fresh Parmesan on top. Mmm.
2. Risotto. There are about a zillion recipes for this, but I’m partial to the simplest ones, like the Naptime Chef’s browned-butter asparagus risotto, which I found on Food52. I tend to use vegetable bouillon cubes to make a quick stock, and sometimes substitute a splash of cognac if I don’t have white wine on hand (I’ve even tried a pale ale, which was, well, interesting).
3. Eggs. You could do something as basic as dicing up leftover asparagus to toss in your scrambled eggs, or create a larger dish. If you have a cast-iron skillet, Gluten-Free Girl’s roasted asparagus frittata is the way to go. If you’ve got a pie crust, try asparagus, leek and Gruyere quiche. And if you have neither, well, try a crustless asparagus quiche or this asparagus and zucchini torta.
4. Soup. It would be hard to improve on Oui, Chef’s recipe for spring asparagus soup, which is the prettiest I’ve ever seen. I also like the sound of the soup mentioned at the end of this Montreal Gazette article about asparagus, which suggests pureeing it with potatoes, chicken stock and Brie cheese.
5. Breaded & fried. Not the healthiest way to eat your veggies, obviously, but as I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of breaded asparagus fries. I’ve never been able to make them myself with much success, but perhaps you’ll have better luck if you aren’t afraid to use lots of oil (I tend to skimp on it) or even a deep-fryer. Here’s one recipe to try. I imagine asparagus tempura is similarly tasty.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.