Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait


Hear that? A sound like paintbrushes being tossed all together into a bag...it is the sound of victory! Of sticking it to the man!

But unless you A.) Read my blog faithfully and B.) are pretty hyper-perceptive, I'm getting ahead of myself.

IT'S SPRING!!!!!

I've said it before: the first sign was the sex (tree sex in the form of pollen among other forms...) in the air,

the second sign was the abundance of bare legs seeking the sun after solitary confinement,

but the Third, the Ultimate Sign of Spring, has finally arrived! (Say it with me Farmer's Market Aficionados...)

ASPARAGUS!!!!!!!

Yes, I am that excited about asparagus. And you would be too if you were a dedicated locavore just coming off of three (or four or five...) months of winter squash, potatoes, and occasional kale. Sure the salad greens have been popping up via green houses for a month or more already, but my winterized system is only ready to go raw on the warmest of days just yet. It wasn't until those beautiful, bountiful, dare I say, sexy(!) spears phallically rose out of pans of water before my weary eyes that the whispers of my second chakra could be heeded by my fourth, and joyfully sung out by my fifth! (That's sacral, heart, and throat respectively.) Yes, it is Spring, and after ample warm-up with winter citrus, and storage apples...

The Preserving Season has Begun!

If you're the kind to buy asparagus suffering from jetlag and great confusion on a whim (haling from Peru most likely, but by March perhaps Mexico)this may be an interesting tidbit for you: Asparagus has the shortest season, at least in our growing zone, of any veggie, and more interestingly, it has the shortest growing season out of mercy to the plant. Asparagus, you see, is the first tender shoot to raise its eyes to the sun in the Spring. If left to its own devices it'll grow into a lovely little Christmas-tree-looking thing, believe it or not. We hungry folk are more of a mind to chop off those first eight inches or so and simmer, steam, or saute with glee. Asparagus is a hearty perennial, but like any of us, eventually it's going to get discouraged if its every effort gets hacked down. So, after a matter of weeks, maybe four, maybe six, maybe three, if the plant is young, a cease-fire is declared. Each asparagus shoot is allowed to unroll branches from those scales about the head (incidentally, if those scales seem loose or falling open, instead of hugging tightly to the stalk, it's a sign the farmer left it in the field a bit too long hoping for larger spears, and the specimen will likely be on the woody and not-so-sweet side...bitter with disappointment perhaps?)


In an effort to atone for all the needless poetry in this post, allow me to offer more asparagus tips (no pun intended, I swear!)

You may have heard that the more slender the spear the better. Simply not true. Big plants produce thick stalks, small plants produce narrow ones.

As previously noted, choose stalks with tight heads (can't resist urge to point out how dirty this all sounds...)

Ideally, asparagus should be standing in trays of clean water. If it's not, check the cut end of the stalk, and try to find specimens that aren't totally dried out.

Regardless of how it was kept before, when you get it home, do stand it up in an inch or so of water in the fridge, and if the bottoms are on the dry side, give it a little trim as you would cut flowers.

To separate tough and woody from tender and wonderful, take the stalks at both ends, and bend until it snaps.

Don't panic if it snaps far closer to the head than you would have hoped! Take all those ends, simmer them in enough water to cover till tender, puree, force through a sieve, add garlic, onions, herbs (dill is lovely), and cream or butter for a fabulous soup! Composte what's left in your sieve, but not till you've wrung out as much of that lovely asparagus broth as you can!

With such a short season, it makes sense to put this stuff up for later use, and yes, I am at last getting around to that crazy paintbrush reference! Bring a big pot of water to a boil, prepare an ice bath in a big bowl, snap your asparagus, blanch the spears in the rapidly boiling water for one minute. Fish out and plunge into the ice bath. Transfer to towel-lined trays and blot dry. Lay out with a little space in between each spear on trays, and transfer to your freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to a freezer container (listen for that paintbrush, Victory of the Seasons, stick it to the Peruvian asparagus man sound!) And feel really really good.

Best of luck Spring lovers.

Ready? Set?? GO!!!

Live Omily, love this crazy wonderful world and its bounty!
~em

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