About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Asparagus


'tis spring, 'tis spring
Da boyds is on da wing.
My woyd!
How absoyd!
I thought da wings was on da boyds!
(an old family rhyme, origin unknown)

It's spring on the Ranch.  This year, as usual, the arrival of spring ushered in our annual windy season. Wicked winds, gusty winds, sustained winds, sandstorm winds.  Very unpleasant indeed.  It makes outside work much more difficult and wreaks havoc in the gardens.
Not only do the wind storms make starting vegetable seeds and plants outside risky to the point of being a reckless gamble, the winds move so much sand around that even well-established perennial plants can have a rough time of it.  It is not unusual for me to have to take our tractor bucket loader and remove 24-30 inch-high "blow sand" dunes from the garden several times between March and June.
Other than the wind, the official arrival of spring (at least in my mind) is heralded by the almost-miraculous appearance of the first stalks of asparagus. They are miraculous from the usual point of view that it's like magic to see those beautiful sprouts pushing up through the cold, hard soil every year but also that they can further withstand the relentless assault of wind and sand and be so productive. 
One year I was not able to get into the garden for weeks after a bad sand storm.  Eventually I got to the asparagus bed and started digging it out, using a flat-bladed shovel. To my surprise, my first shovelful not only removed a bunch of sand but it also cleanly cut and exposed about a dozen gorgeous white asparagus stalks!  This, of course, is how this great culinary delicacy is intentionally grown... as the first shoots of asparagus begin to show through the ground they are covered up with a few inches of soil.  This is repeated every time the shoots begin to show until they are large enough for harvest.  Preventing exposure to sunlight keeps the chlorophyll from greening-up the plants and limited exposure to air keeps them very tender.  Anyway, that year we had a nice harvest of a truly special accidental vegetable crop.
Despite some wild winds this year, the asparagus bed has somehow remained pretty clear of sand.  Maybe my wind screens (both vegetative and manmade obstacles) are finally starting to work. For whatever reason, the asparagus are doing great!  Since our first harvest a few days ago we have had daily yields of from 12 to 30 beautiful, thick and tall spears and they have been on our plates for every dinner.
Today's asparagus harvest
(and some tomatoes from the greenhouse)
Our asparagus usually goes from the garden directly to dinner prep but if I need to store them for a short while I'll give them a quick rinse in very cold water, wrap a moist paper towel around the base end of the bundle then wrap the whole bundle lightly in plastic wrap, leaving the top end open for ventilation.  The asparagus will last in the fridge veggie drawer this way for a couple of days with very little loss of quality.
Pan-Roast Asparagus
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is a very simple pan-roast. 
First I wash them really well.  Even though the sands are not piling up on them it is certainly blowing around a lot and they - especially the convoluted little heads - need lots of running water to prevent gritty food. 
After washing I'll trim the bottom ends just enough to remove where the skin is a bit tough. If the skin seems to be tough up more than an inch I will sometimes peel the bases. I'll then wash the spears one more time.
Next I heat a little butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  When it is hot I put in the spears (trying to keep them all oriented the same direction for ease of cooking and subsequent serving) and give them a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Shake the pan fairly frequently to make sure that all the the individual spears get even pan-contact time.  If there is a lot of disparity in spear sizes - not an unusual occurrence for home harvests, I may withhold the smaller ones and add them part way through cooking the larger spears.
Cooking only takes a few minutes and I like them best if a few get a tiny bit of pan browning started.  Avoid too much browning or risk them tasting bitter.
Pan-Roasted Asparagus
This is one of the easiest, fastest and best vegetables there is, made especially good with freshly home-harvested spears. I could eat pan-roast asparagus at every meal, year 'round but the season is short so I'll just enjoy it while I can. 

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