Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Green St. Patrick's Day Asparagus

I LOVE Spring! (I've mentioned that already, haven't I?)

One of the reasons I love it? Beautiful, "local" (OK, local = Walla Walla Valley, which is a couple hundred miles) asparagus is cheap, cheap, cheap right now so I'm taking advantage of the availability of one of my favorite vegetables... and since it's GREEN, I thought it'd be a nice St. Patrick's Day subject.

(Sorry, I can't get any more creative than that.)

First though, some fun with vegetables:


1.) Where was asparagus first grown?
2.) What do asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and yucca have in common?
3.) What famous king had gardeners grow asparagus in greenhouses so he could eat asparagus year round?
4.) What state grows most of the asparagus in the United States?
5.) Ancient Greeks and Romans believed asparagus had what medicinal qualities?
6.) What kind of climate is best for asparagus?
7.) What are the two main varieties of asparagus?
8.) What civilization cultivated asparagus as an offering to the gods?
9.) In what section of this country was asparagus first grown?
10.) The word "asparagus" is derived from what language? What does it mean in that language?
11.) Does asparagus have aphrodisiac qualities?

(I'll give you the answers at the end of this post. No prizes, just pride in the knowledge that you know so much about asparagus!)

OK, on to the good stuff...

Our favorite method is ROASTING:
  • Simply lay the spears on a cookie sheet.
  • Drizzle some really good olive oil over.
  • Add a sprinkle of sea salt (try a "fancy" salt here like Hawaiian red salt or smoked sea salt... :swoon:!!)
  • Roast in oven about 7 min. or until done, tender-crisp. Heaven. And SO easy.

Next up, Asparagus with Pasta. They were MADE to go together. In fact, they should get married.

Here's a super-easy one I made the other night, all measurements are approximate:

Asparagus and Rigatoni

4 servings rigatoni, cooked and drained
3 Tbsp olive oil
About a pound of asparagus, nice thin stalks, washed and cut to the same length as the pasta
1 teaspoon lemon juice - FRESH squeezed
fresh grated lemon zest - just a pinch
pinch of red pepper flakes
About a handful of sun-dried tomatoes OR kalamata olives OR roasted red peppers (or a bit of all three), diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
toasted nuts like pecans, hazelnuts or pinenuts

It works out well if you start the asparagus cooking at the same time as adding the pasta to the boiling water.
Heat the oil over med-high heat and add asparagus and red pepper flakes. Saute for 5 minutes, until asparagus just begins to brown a bit. Turn the heat down to low and add sun-dried tomatoes, the lemon juice and zest, and the garlic. Once the garlic begins to brown, remove from heat. Toss with pasta and divide between two bowls. Top with toasted nuts and enjoy.

And here's basically a simpler version of the same thing made with linguine instead. And we skipped the sundried tomatoes. Just asparagus, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes and pasta... I think you can see a theme here.

Eat up.
Asparagus is very low in calories and sodium, but offers a a good deal of potassium, Vit. A, folic acid, B vitamins, copper and zinc. It's also one of the best vegetable sources for Vitamin E.

And I didn't forget the quiz answers:
1.) No one knows for sure. We do know it existed in the Mediterranean area in ancient times.
2.) They are all in the lily family.
3.) Louis XIV of France
4.) California (with WASHINGTON a close second, just thought I'd add that).
5.) Helped to prevent bee stings and relieve toothaches.
6.) One where the ground freezes in winter to a depth of two inches or more.
7.) Green and white.
8.) Egyptian.
9.) New England
10.) Greek word meaning "sprout" or "shoot."
11.) Hahaha... All through history asparagus has been trumpeted as an aphrodisiac. A 16th century Arabian love manual gave an asparagus recipe to create a stimulant for amorous desires. In 18th Century France Madame Pompadour had her asparagus concoction for sexual vigor. In his book Food, contemporary writer Waverley Root devotes a section to the sex life of the asparagus.

(Source: Wikipedia; Vegetarians in Paradise; Washington Asparagus Commission)


Dianne said...

Yum! I like roasting best, for sure, sometimes with a sprinkle of lemon juice. You are just a fountain of knowledge, though! I did know it was known as an aphrodisiac...mostly because it's shaped like a ding-dong.