Monday, May 25, 2009

Spring's ground infantry

Asparagus is a sure sign of spring. Its brave pointed heads soldier up from cold, moist soil. The season for asparagus is the same season that you find sad, cracked, baby-blue robins’ eggs in the grass. On my parents' farm in Manitoba, two rows of it grow right down the middle of the garden. Those rows have been producing, year after year, since I was little.

As kids, we were sent out to the garden fifteen minutes before suppertime, with a bowl and a knife. We knew how to look for them (the fat ones, a day or two old, just peeking out) and how to cut them (well below the soil, always at an angle).

Then my mother blanched them and we ate them with loads of butter.

When I was about ten, I got into big trouble. It was August, and the asparagus had grown to its full potential; thick woody stems with full, fluffy wisps, speckled with orangey-red berries—Christmas in August. The plants were so soft, and thick, and taller than I was. And nothing in the world was more fun than throwing myself into them one afternoon, over and over, until I had flattened the entire patch.

In University, I took a botany class called "Economic plants" — basically, plants humans use to eat, to feed its livestock with, to make medicine, to make clothes, to get high on. Each student was assigned a plant to study Others got strawberries, wheat, cotton, carrots. I got asparagus.
In the days that I was writing the final essay, I remember waking up from a very fitful sleep in a panic. I had dreamt that I was asparagus. And that I could feel my roots growing deeper and deeper underground with every year. It was all very weird. Thinking back, I should have looked into what that dream meant.

Anyway, now its 2009, and I certainly haven’t settled my roots perennially the way asparagus does. But I have been eating a hell of a lot of asparagus, like I always have this time of year.

Simple roasted asparagus
While I still like my asparagus doused in butter, my favorite way to eat them nowadays is to roast them in the oven. If they get a little charred, all the better. This isn’t exactly a whiz of a recipe, but it’s the best way to enjoy asparagus for what they are.

1 lb local, fresh asparagus (if possible, buy asparagus that is store with it’s cut stems in water— they’ll be less woody)
A good drizzle of olive oil
Fresh ground pepper and salt, to taste.

Preheat the over to 450 F. Trim the woody ends. In a shallow baking dish or a cookie sheet large enough to accommodate all the asparagus, side by side like little soldiers. Drizzle them with oil. Salt and pepper them, and slide them in the oven, uncovered. When they are glistening and wrinkly, and browned on the bottom (ten minutes or so), take them out and turn them over, using a fork. Leave them in for an additional ten minutes.
They’re great as is, but you can dress them with lemon juice, or shaved parmesan. Or even some crispy pancetta.


Paloma said...

Lovely post, Diane! I'm going to try out this recipe. I could eat tons of asparagus--I remember seeing the white kind growing in Spain, under garbage bags to prevent photosynthesis--but it makes your pee smell funny.

Diane Eros said...

Hey Paloma,
Yeah, I know, asparagus does make your pee smell funny! Yet another magical property of asparagus. What a crazy vegetable. Love it.

Matias said...

I'm so relieved! I have commented this interesting physiological effect of asparagus with acquaintances many times. I thought I was the only one to suffer the olfactory consequences of an asparagus&prosciutto pizza, or smoked salmon rolls...
Now I know I'm not alone. Do you think this is a cleansing effect or is it just plain stinky?