Some things in life are meant to be ephemeral. They only work because they don’t last. Like a streak of lightning snaking through a stormy sky, or the rose and coral glow of a sunrise, or your relationship with your middle school boyfriend…ahem. I, quite romantically, have been used to thinking about spring in this way as well. But, I’m reconsidering. Actually, I’d like to submit an official request for a change of opinion. Spring! Come back!! Just a few more weeks! Please!
The balmy days, and profusion of lilacs have evaporated like a morning fog and given way to sweltering, thick, lazy heat. Summer came early this year – and I’m considering moving back to the artic circle. (I’m a terribly obnoxious whiner when it comes to heat and mugginess, I hope you can forgive me. Also, I can’t complain too much, given that today happens to be spectacularly lovely, but it won’t last.)
With the sudden onset of summer weather has come a rapid transition in the growing season, and spring vegetables have phased themselves out, practically before we even had a chance to greet them. Goodbye to the ramps, and the rhubarb, and the favas, and the fiddleheads, and the asparagus.
Ah, asparagus. It’s practically synonymous with spring, the prince of springtime farmer’s markets and spring dishes. I’m finding myself – and I would guess I’m in good company – wishing I had eaten asparagus every single day of it’s brief season (I only managed about every other day – tragic). Which is a little funny to think about because let’s take a moment to remember how we felt about asparagus when we were kids. Okay, maybe you liked asparagus, but then you, my friend, were a rather odd child. I loathed it. I considered it an abomination, and used words to describe it that are more commonly used in sentences about sewage or skin diseases – I think I purposefully expanded my vocabulary of disgust-words, just to encompass my feelings about asparagus. I thought asparagus stalks were putrid, floppy, flaccid, rank….Then one day I had grilled asparagus, and the scales fell off my eyes. It was marvelous! Pungent, crisp, bursting with springtime freshness. This was followed by equally lovely experiences with sautéed and roasted asparagus, and suddenly I realized what the problem had been in those early dark days of anti-asparagus sentiment.
Never boil asparagus. Actually, don’t even hold the thoughts of “asparagus” and “boil” in your mind at the same time, unless you are planning on boiling pasta water so that you can toss lightly sautéed asparagus with pasta, crème fraiche, and lemon zest (ooh, and maybe a little thinly sliced prosciutto while we’re at it). Okay?
Lightly steaming asparagus, until it is just the slightest bit cooked, but still crispy is acceptable, I guess. But, I really have decided that asparagus is the best grilled, sautéed, or roasted – and given that I am the grand arbiter of good taste in my own little universe, this is how I generally cook it. If you are cooking asparagus in this way (ie. on the grill, roasting, or sautéing), all it takes is a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper to make something grand. Just cook it until it has some crispy brown on the outside, but hasn’t gone totally limp (usually no more than 10 minutes), and you’re ready to go. Before cooking, snap the bottom end of each asparagus stalk off as this part is tough and stemmy. If you just hold near the bottom and bend the asparagus, you’ll find that each one has a weak spot that is a natural breaking point. It’s actually kind of fun.
You can add chopped, lightly cooked asparagus to salads, pasta, risotto, omelets, and stir fry’s. I also recently saw this asparagus pizza, which I’m kicking myself for not having made immediately, and one of my all time favorite sandwiches is a fried egg sandwich with sautéed asparagus and garlic mayonnaise. The unique flavor of asparagus goes well with lemon and other citrus, mustard, garlic (but what doesn’t go well with garlic?), ginger, soy sauce, mushrooms, cream and cheeses, and salty cured meats.
I usually keep it totally simple and just add salt and pepper to my asparagus, and serve it as a side dish. But, one of my favorite ways to jazz it up is to add a dollop of mustard and a squirt of lemon juice as I sautee it. I thought this was my own personal asparagus invention, but I recently discovered that Andreas Viestad has a similar recipe in his cookbook. Great minds think alike, I guess!
Asparagus with lemon and mustard (serves about 4)
- 1 large bunch of asparagus (about a pound)
- a good chunk of butter (a couple of Tablespoons)
- the juice from half of a lemon (it’s also really good with a Tbs. of balsamic vinegar instead)
- a dollop of mustard (about 1 Tbs., preferable the grainy kind, but really any good mustard would be fine)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the asparagus, and snap off their bottom ends. You can leave the asparagus whole, or cut them into halves or thirds.
- In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Then, add in the asparagus and sautee, stirring occasionally to turn the asparagus over, until they are turning brown on the outside and are getting a little soft, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the lemon juice and mustard, turning the asparagus in it to coat them all. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Serve as a side dish for fish, meat, an egg dish, or creamy pasta.