By Deirdre Bourdet
Asparagus gets a bad rap. Far too many people think of it as the limp,
stringy, soggy, slimy, and stinky green-grey stripes garnishing a
“fancy” continental cuisine plate of tastelessness. But when it’s not
boiled or steamed beyond all recognition, asparagus has a sweet, unique
flavor, a cheery spring color, and fantastic crunch that make it one of
the most versatile vegetables out there. “Continental” cuisine is the
appropriate culinary tradition for asparagus only if it refers to Asia,
Australia, Africa, and the Americas as well as Europe. And at this time
of year, the spiky green palisades are at the sweet peak of their
season, waiting to be rediscovered.
One of my favorite ways to eat spring asparagus is the way that requires the least amount of effort and time: raw. Washed, dried, and (if the skin on the stem is tough) peeled, raw asparagus stems make a truly awesome salad ingredient. Their juicy, water chestnut-like crunch, and mild herbaceous flavor find a happy home in virtually any salad you can think of. Try them sliced thin with avocado, mâche, and a lemon dressing to emphasize their delicate green flavor. Toss slices onto a spicy taco salad for cooling, juicy relief, and a bright bit of healthy crunch. Or chop the stems up like a carrot and add them to your favorite tuna or chicken salads. Once you go raw, it’ll be hard to go back.
If raw seems too primal, or your spears are a touch past their prime, thinly-sliced peeled asparagus is also fantastic stir fried briefly with a bit of garlic, salt and pepper until they’re softened but not totally cooked through. Use them wherever you want a bit of texture, brightness, or veggie goodness… like omelets, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, or quesadillas. All of the above suggestions for raw stems are also great with the stir-fried incarnations.
Roasting is my other favorite way to eat asparagus. Grilled, broiled, or roasted in the oven, the effect is the same. Whole spears char up with an irresistible caramelized crust and dark smokiness in just a few short minutes, thereby eliminating the risk of overcooking them to the soggy depths of yore. Don’t ever plan on having any leftovers–it is impossible.
Last, but certainly not least, asparagus also makes a great pizza topping, as Napa’s Pizzeria Azzurro
proves every year around this time. Sliced thin, and paired with tangy goat cheese, spring onions, and fresh green garlic, it is spring incarnate. Check out their “primavera” while the season lasts.