Asparagus is the edible shoot or spear of the plant “Asparagus officinalis”. It is a member of the Lily family. Asparagus is very hardy. It comes in White, Green, and Purple varieties.
Asparagus originated in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It has been consumed for over 2000 years. It was originally valued for medicinal purposes. Today there are over 300 varieties, only which 20 of those are edible.
Green asparagus produce a purple bloom at the end. The thinner the stalk, the tenderer it tends to be. White asparagus is grown in the dark, and covered with soil. This prevents chlorophyll from forming. It is less flavorful and more expensive than the common green asparagus. White asparagus is very popular in Europe.
Purple asparagus has a fruity flavor. It grows 2-3 inches long. It is a gourmet version of asparagus, and is referred to as “viola”. The purple pigment is usually lost when it is heated; turning a shade of green, but still has spots of purple tones.
Asparagus is usually available from February to June. It is harvested at 6 to 8 inches. Look for spears that are firm and whose blossoms are tight. Store wrapped in a wet paper towel or trim a little off the end and then store in a glass with a little water in the bottom. After harvesting, the woody end needs to be snapped off at its natural bending point. The stalks can also be peeled to remove some of their fibers. Store the stalks in water or wet towels. To cook, plunge in boiling, salted water, and then shock in ice water to stop the cooking if not going to be eaten immediately. They can also be sautéed, roasted or grilled successfully. Small spears can be cooked as is. If the spear is thicker- it usually requires to be blanched first.
Asparagus is sold as three different sizes: pencil, standard, and jumbo. The pencil thin variety usually does not need to be peeled. It is very tender and is sometimes suitable to be eaten raw. Jumbo asparagus should be peeled and is very fibrous.
Asparagus are good sources of Vitamins A, B, and C. They also contain iron, and have a considerable amount of folic acid. There is a bit of sulfur present, which can be tasted when eaten raw or sometimes smelled when cooking. There is a compound in asparagus called asparagines which when digested leaves the body through urine- possibly giving it an unpleasant smell.
Dishes that contain asparagus are called a la Argenteuil.
Pencil Thin Asparagus with Golden Parmigiano
5 pounds pencil thin asparagus
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano
Trim the tough lower portion of the asparagus with a vegetable peeler. Cut the bottom 2 inches off of the asparagus, making all the asparagus the same length. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the salt, and drop in the asparagus; if you can, keep them standing upright. Cover; cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or tongs; cool.
Butter a 9” round baking dish. Arrange the asparagus in the dish with the tips facing the center. Sprinkle with the Parmigianino; top with the butter. Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly browned, using a fork to turn every 5 minutes to prevent sticking. Serve hot. Serves 4.
© 2012 Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger All rights reserved
Cite me: Denlinger, J. (2012, April 4). Asparagus. Retrieved from: FloridaChef.net