The sight locally grown of asparagus in our grocery stores is a sure sign that the growing season is well under way. No longer do we have to settle for -or avoid- droopy forlorn stalks trucked in from Mexico and California, the recent excellent weather means we can feast on this perennial favourite harvested nearby only a day or two ago.
Though fashionable foraging foodies fawn over fiddleheads and rave about ramps, the regal asparagus has always held a position of high esteem in the culinary world. Prized in ancient Egypt, Syria and Spain, it also graced Roman tables during the Feast of Epicurius, is included in the oldest surviving recipe book, Apicius’ De re coquinaria from the third century, and so desirable that the Emperor Augustus reserved the Asparagus Fleet for transporting it. Centuries later, Louis XIV built greenhouses for it, and Madame de Pompadour munched on its “points d’amour”
And who among us, when we were in our green goddess salad days, has not sat down to a feast surf and turf with a side of steamed asparagus smothered in Hollandaise, or casually punctuated a salient point while twirling a tender stalk, acutely aware that it is permissible -if not expected- to nibble this illustrious vegetable with one’s fingers?
Whether steamed, sautéed or grilled on the barbeque, this is a quick cooking veggie. Even a minute too long on the fire will render it soggy and sad. There is a reason that Caesar Augustus coined the term “faster than cooking Asparagus”
We love to grill asparagus but if sticking indoors, prefer a pan sautee method rather than steaming, and one of the simplest methods to cook it is provided by Edna Lewis courtesy of Saveur. This preparation is so simple, straightforward and delicious, you will never go back to steaming it again.
Edna Lewis’ Skillet Asparagus
2 lbs. asparagus
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Rinse asparagus in cold water and trim off tough ends of stalks. Put butter in a heavy skillet with a tight-fitting lid and heat until butter is foaming. Lay asparagus in the pan and shake from side to side to coat asparagus gently with melted butter; cover tightly and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Check asparagus and turn as needed to make sure the stalks cook evenly and don’t burn.
2. Continue cooking 5 minutes longer, or until asparagus is tender but still crisp and bright green. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.
So get in on a little history. Grab a bundle of Asparagus and cook it up while it is still fresh and readily available.