Hand me my spears: Asparagus is in for spring

Hand me my spears: Asparagus is in for spring

Hand me my spears!

Nothing heralds the arrival of spring like asparagus. Fat or thin, the spears rise obediently with the season, perishing long before a tomato might make its acquaintance on a plate. Sure, you can buy asparagus year-round now, but why defy nature? These dishes from around town honor the beauties during their fleeting, precious prime.

At Revolutionary Soup, a springtime soup of local asparagus and shiitake mushrooms makes the weekly rounds. It’s light, bright, and vegetarian.

At tavola, garganelli (a more rustic version of penne) (1) gets dolled up for the primavera with asparagus, sweet peas, spring vidalia onions, preserved lemon, cream, mint, and pecorino tartufo—a sheep’s milk cheese studded with black truffle.

Blue Light Grill’s new chef Ian Boden (of the sadly shuttered Staunton Grocery) centers his debut menu around all things seasonal and his charred asparagus salad (2) with maple-glazed shiitakes in an egg yolk vinaigrette sings of spring.

Palladio’s insalata mista of local lettuces, shaved asparagus, and toasted pistachios dressed in a champagne vinaigrette and topped with a parmesan crisp is delicate and delectable.
The Clifton Inn combines charred asparagus (3) with spring onions, bacon, and dashi for a flavorful bed beneath grilled tuna.

Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar stirs up a risotto—with asparagus, spinach, shallot, garlic, and tomato confit (4)—that’s as colorful and fragrant as the season.

Horse & Hound Gastropub gives vegetarians (or otherwise) a most satisfying option with its sesame-crusted, tempura-fried tofu over a risotto made with quinoa, scallions, and asparagus.—Megan J. Headley

Scent of a spear
It’s the sulfur-containing compounds in asparagus that make our urine smell as soon as 15 minutes after eating. Early investigators of this phenomenon thought that genetics had divided the world into stinkers and non-stinkers—just like tongue-rollers and non-tongue-rollers. But in the 1980s, after researchers had the foresight to waft a non-stinker’s urine under a stinker’s nose, they discovered that everyone’s urine stinks post-asparagus—it’s just that 20 percent of us can’t smell it.

The ABCs of asparagi
Whiter shade of pale
White asparagus has been denied light while growing and has a milder flavor than green. Purple asparagus is higher in sugar and lower in fiber, but high in cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

Hunting and gathering
Choose bunches with plump, tightly closed tips and stems that aren’t dried out. Stalks should be bright green and firm. Kept cool and damp, uncooked asparagus will stay fresh for two to three days in the refrigerator. Store spears upright in a container with the stems wading in an inch of water or wrap the ends in moist paper towels and drop the bundle into a plastic bag.

Be gentle
Steam, boil, broil, grill, or roast asparagus, but don’t overdo it or you’ll lose its bright color and delicate flavor. Depending on the method you choose and the thickness of your spears, cooking will take from three to eight minutes. If you boil or steam them, be ready with a bowl of ice water for an immediate place to plunge them.

To peel or not to peel
Using a vegetable peeler to take off the outer layer of the asparagus stalk eliminates stringiness and allows the tips and stems to cook evenly. Some snap off the fibrous end, but that’s a waste of a perfectly good spear. Peeling renders all but the very end of the stem edible.—M.J.H.

Did you know?
Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10″ in a 24-hour period. In Croatia in 2010, five stalks were found that measured 12′ long. Talk about miracle grow!