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The first few tiny asparagus spears poked through the soil this week in the patch at the edge of the garden, promising many more, much larger ones to come. Asparagus are one of my very favorite vegetables.
It wasn’t always that way. I can remember when I was growing up how I hated them, but now that I think about it, my dislike was because they were soft and mushy and were way overcooked.
That’s something a cook should never do to a tender asparagus spear. The tastiest and most nutritious method for cooking them is just barely. If they are to be boiled, cook whole or cut up for just a minute or two, then turn off the heat and let them sit for no more than five minutes. If steaming them, stand them up in a pan made particularly for cooking asparagus, or in a covered metal colander over a pan of boiling water. Let them steam for just a few minutes so that their bright green color remains.
I also like to sauté them with fresh, sliced garlic and a little olive oil. To do this, I either leave them whole, or cut up, on a diagonal, then place them with the garlic and olive oil in a medium hot fry pan. I stir them for a couple of minutes, then cover the pan. Sometimes I add two or three tablespoons of homemade chicken stock. Stir every so often for about
five minutes. Then serve – yum.
This is the year I started another asparagus patch. This time, I mixed well-rotted mulch and poultry droppings with the garden’s soil. The 4x8-foot bed was made from sturdy old railroad ties. Planting asparagus is a little different from planting other vegetables.
Each asparagus plant has a tiny crown, surrounded by a mass of long, thin roots. Cut off an inch or two of the dead ends of the roots. Spread the plant, with the crown in the center, in a prepared trench. Arrange the roots on two sides of the crown.
Repeat every 18 inches. Then cover with soil. This new bed won’t be ready for at least a year, when fresh spears can be cut for only two weeks. After two years or so, this king of vegetables can be harvested for about four weeks. Never pick all the asparagus spears. Some must become feathery ferns and the roots will provide food for next year’s crop.
One fall, well after the end of the asparagus and gardening season, and frost had already hit, a heavy dew gathered on dozens of asparagus ferns in the early morning hours to create one of the most ethereal visions I have ever seen. It was beautiful.
Although asparagus are the best, in my opinion, cooked simply, there are many other ways to prepare them. Here’s one for the sometimes cool spring nights we often have.
Cream of Asparagus Soup (about 6 cups)
1 pound fresh asparagus, tips removed and saved
6 cups chicken stock
one-quarter cup chopped onion
one-half cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
one-half cup cream or milk
salt, freshly ground pepper, sprinkling of paprika
garnish with a chopped, hard-cooked egg
Remove the tough ends from each spear. Place the tips in a small pan with just enough water to cover. Simmer for no more than 5 minutes. Cut up the stalks and place them in a larger pan with the stock, onion and celery. Simmer about 20 minutes. Place in a blender and blend until smooth.
In a large pan on low heat, melt the butter, then slowly stir in the flour to make a roux. Slowly pour in while stirring, the half-cup of milk or cream. Add the blended asparagus mixture. Heat, adding the reserved tips. Just before serving, season with salt, pepper and paprika. Top each serving with chopped egg.
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