Monday, March 17, 2008

Asparagus, Asparagus, How I Love Thee...

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

One of the reasons I love it? Beautiful, local 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 simply lay the spears on a cookie sheet, drizzling some olive oil over, a sprinkle of sea salt (try a "fancy" salt here like Hawaiian red salt or smoked sea salt... :swoon:!!) and then oven roast until done. Heaven. And SO easy.

Next up, Asparagus with Pasta. They were MADE to go together.
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)


Anonymous said...

Pasta and asparagus should just get married and get on with it! I don't think I can imagine them without each other. Mmm..

Veggie said...

Yum. Your pasta looks so good. I don't think I knew the answers to any of the quiz questions.

Veggie said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Kyle said...

I'm a fellow asparagus lover! The only difference between you and me is that I live in the most producing asparagus state, CA, and you're in WA in a close second. I'm sure you'll be passing us by soon enough though. :0) I love your blog so much. I have one too but it can't compare to yours. I absolutely love your recipes. Keep 'em coming!!

Anonymous said...

I love asparagus, but they are extremely expensive around here.

what a great looking food! yum

pleasantly plump vegan said...

i've decided asparagus IS one of my favorite veggies, especially roasted! i had that for dinner tonight actually.

Anonymous said...

oh...I just love this stuff too! One veggie I can never get sick of.

Amy said...

I bought my third bunch in two weeks last night (used some in your creamy pasta dish), and a pasta saute sounds like a good plan! We already do the pasta/garlic/red pepper flakes meal a lot, so we'll throw asp. in with the red peppers I picked up.

But asparagus is over $3 a bunch around here!!

Tofu Hunter said...

Love your blog too! Delicious looking and inspiring recipes. I put up a link from the Tofu Hunter. Thanks for your feedback and for your entries!

Billy said...

It's almost Seattle Vegfest time!

Veg*n Vegas said...

Love it, love it. Good stuff. When we lived in the Spokane area, it grew wild, we would pick it and cook it.

When I get "homesick" a big batch of asparagus does it for me. I am now going to go cook some!

Cynthia said...

I too LOVE the sweet, crisp asparagus. Unfortunately, the only way we get it is imported and the costs are really high :(

Anonymous said...

zomg. Roasted asparagus= LOVE
havent had pasta in a while- you just inspired me :D

bazu said...

Oh my gosh, asparagus. Oh my gosh, that pasta looks so amazing. I know I just had breakfast but... I need some asparagus rigatoni now!

Wheeler's Frozen Dessert said...

asparagus was my worst enemy as a kid, but it was the first thing I learned to cook and now I can't get enough of it! your pasta looks especially irresistable!

Seitan W├Ârshipper said...

wow, I love asparagus too! But because they are usually too expensive for me to bought fresh,I usually keep some canned(yep, those mushy,salty but TASTY) ones in my cupboard and/or fridge ;)