Long-lived perennial grown for slender young shoots and ornamental foliage. Half hardy.
Value: high in potassium and folic acid, moderate source of beta carotene and vitamin E.
Asparagus spears should be used as fresh as possible, preferably within an hour of harvesting. They can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. To freeze, tie into bundles and blanch thick spears for 4 minutes, thin for 2. Freeze in a plastic container. Asparagus is best eaten steamed or boiled and served hot with butter. Also good cold with vinaigrette, parmesan cheese, or mayonnaise. Asparagus tips can be added to salads and pizza toppings. To boil, wash spears, peel away the skin below the tips, and soak in cold water until all have been prepared. Sort into stalks of even length (perhaps 20 stalks if thin varieties and 6-8 if thicker-stemmed), and tie with soft string or raffia, one close to the base and another just below the tip. Stand bundles upright in boiling salted water, with the tips above water level. Cover and boil gently for 10-15 minutes until al dente, then drain and serve. Don’t overcook: the tips should be firm, and the spears should not bend when held at the base. The water can be used in soup.
6 morels, fresh or dried
1 big bunch thin asparagus, cut into 1 in. pieces
1c unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
1½ cups Arborio rice
2 cups chicken stock, boiling
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons mascarpone salt and freshly ground black pepper freshly shredded parmesan (optional)
Soak fresh morels in salted water for 10 minutes and wash thoroughly. Pat dry and cut each into several pieces. If using dried morels, soak in warm water for 30 minutes before cutting up. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and set aside. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and sauté the onion and morels until soft. Stir in the rice and coat it well with the oil and butter. Pour in a cup of the stock and the marjoram and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed. Add more cupfuls of stock one at a time and continue cooking until the rice is just tender and the consistency is creamy. Stir in the asparagus and the mascarpone and season well. Serve with parmesan.
Asparagus is used to treat rheumatism, gout, and cystitis. Anyone who lacks the enzyme to break down asparagin produces urine with a strong odor-a disconcerting but harmless phenomenon.