Eat what grows. And those lovely local spears are in season
The appearance of local asparagus is a sign that spring has truly arrived—no more frosty mornings, but real, warm, neon green spring.
You’ve already seen plenty of asparagus in the grocery stores. But the farmers markets are where you’ll now find the locally grown tasty stalks. Asparagus is a true local vegetable, a perennial that’s often found growing wild in ditches and fields.
I remember sneaking into the garden as a child when the first few stalks appeared around early May, stealing the fresh young tips, eating them raw and crisp, feeling excited about the summer garden yet to come.
The not-so memorable part of asparagus: the mushy overcooked, dingy green, stringy vegetable that often ended up on the dinner plate. The secret is not to overcook asparagus, and as an adult, I’m still questing for increasingly creative ways to enjoy this delicate spring vegetable. That said, besides raw from the garden and served with dip, the best recipes are the simplest.
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is the quick sauté on the stove with a little olive oil, a splash of white wine, sea salt, and served with a few sprinkles of parmesan cheese. Prepare this right before you sit down to eat, so the asparagus remains that bright crisp green. A squeeze of lemon adds a refreshing twist.
We’re all anxious to grill in the spring and asparagus is an easy choice. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and placed directly on the grill until a few char marks appear. Reserve this technique for the bigger, fatter stalks, so nothing falls through the grill.
Roasting the asparagus in the oven can be done in a similar fashion. Try different seasonings to your preference: lemon, pepper, cayenne for some heat, or smoked paprika (a new favorite of mine).
Asparagus and eggs pair naturally—there’s something about the rich creaminess of eggs combined with the woody astringency of the vegetable. It’s a time-honored duo for good reason, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy spring. The combo makes for an easy but fancy dinner dish: Simply serve cooked asparagus with a fried egg on top. And this time of year, we should often have breakfast with asparagus (an easy way to get a serving of vegetables for the day!) Sauté some chopped asparagus and add it to scrambled eggs with chopped fresh chives and your favorite spicy sausage.
Raw asparagus works well as a salad with a lemony vinaigrette. Shave the asparagus with a vegetable peeler, laying the spear flat on cutting board to get its full length, after you’ve cut off the tender young tips to sprinkle in the salad, too. Mix the shaved asparagus with quartered tomatoes, small slices of cucumbers and other favorites. Drizzle the dressing over vegetables, and add other toppings such as toasted almonds, fresh mint or chives, and shaved parmesan. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. My go-to vinaigrette:
2 green onions (scallions), sliced
Juice of half a lemon, plus some zest
3 tsp. white wine vineager
4 Tbsp. quality olive oil
Salt and pepper
Shaved asparagus also makes a great “bed” for a main dish, topped, for example, with a poached egg and sautéed mushrooms, as Red Eye Brewing did as a chef’s special last month.
We have several more weeks of local asparagus ahead of us. One vendor at the Wausau Farmers Market says he’ll have it through June, or until the really hot weather arrives. Buy it local while you can! You can preserve asparagus by freezing blanched pieces, but I prefer to make cream of asparagus soup, then freeze it in bags or containers.
Now open: Wausau Farmers Market on River Drive runs Saturdays and Wednesdays 7 am–sold out • The Weston market at Schofield Ave. and Camp Philips Road runs Saturdays and Tuesdays 8 am-sold out. • Other markets in the area will open in early- or mid-June.