Market & Garden Report: Asparagus Season!

May 4, 2012

(Editor’s Note: Now that farmers’ market season is back, we’re going to revisit some past Market & Garden radio shows that highlight produce at it’s peak.)

[HOST INTRO] Asparagus is at it’s peak right now at area farmers’ markets. But asparagus season is short.  So, in this week’s Market & Garden Report, Guy Hand finds out how to make the most of this quintessential, spring vegetable.

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(Sounds of market) (Hand) Asparagus is actually an immature fern, a delicacy even the Greeks and Romans loved.  And nothing shouts spring louder than fresh asparagus.  So I’ve stopped by the Capital City Public Market to soak up some asparagus wisdom from Jerry Stelling.  He runs AC&D Farms in New Plymouth and has asparagus plants that are 20 years old.  He knows how to pick great asparagus.

(Stelling) First off you want to make sure that it’s not too pliable, but you can kind of bend it a little bit and tell that it’s not dried out and that there’s actually some firmness and some crispness to it.

(Hand) Stelling gives a spear a little flex test.  It bends, but just a bit.  Next he looks at the base.

(Stelling)You want to make sure you’re not buying three or four inches of white down at the bottom end that’s real fibrous and real woody.  You wanna have 5, 6, 7 inches of good spear.

(Hand) But don’t snap the bottom off before you cook it.  That’s a wasteful wive’s tale.  Just cut the white part off.  The rest should be tender.  Next Stelling checks the top.

(Stelling) If the top looks a little bit mushy, you can maybe give it a little touch and tell that it has already starting to break down.  To get to that point, it’s either had to be exposed to heat for a while or it’s been harvested for probably a week and a half at that point.

(Hand) Let’s talk a little bit about the size of the spears.  I know that some people really like small spears, some people like large spears.

(Stelling) Well, we eat all of it.  Some people prefer larger stuff for grilling for obvious reasons, it’s a little bit easier to handle and the smaller spears, some people like them ‘cause they steam up really quick.

(Hand) I used to think fat spears were older and therefore tougher, but that’s not true.  Thick asparagus can be just as young and tender as thin, though you may want to take a vegetable peeler to the bottom part of a thick spear, where the skin can get a little fibrous.  But how does Jerry Stelling’s family cook asparagus?

(Stelling)  We like to put a little bit of butter in a pan and some asparagus on top there, fry it around until it’s warmed up and crack some eggs over it.  (Hand) That sounds pretty good.  (Stelling)  Yea, it is.  We really enjoy that.  Another way, you can steam it . . .

(Hand) There are tons of way’s to fix asparagus: grilled, sauteed, even pureed into pesto for pasta sauce.  That’s really good.  But you’ve only got a few weeks of the fresh, local stuff to work with.  That’s why I’ve posted a bunch of recipes at Northwest Food News dot com.

(Hand) For Edible Idaho’s Market & Garden Report and Boise State Radio, I’m Guy Hand.

Here are links to recipes and stories on asparagus:

And here’s Guy’s Asparagus and Tuna Pestrecipe (it’s great)

  • 1 5 -1/2 oz. can good quality tuna in olive oil
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts (reserving a little for topping)
  • 1/2 lemon and grated zest of whole lemon (reserving a little for topping)
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash soy sauce (optional, but I like it)
  • Fistful of tarragon, basil or dill
  • Olive oil to taste
  • One bunch asparagus
  1. Blanch trimmed asparagus in salted water until just tender.
  2. Chop asparagus in half inch sections, reserving heads for topping.
  3. Put the tuna with its oil, nuts (reserving a few for topping), lemon zest, juice from 1/2 lemon, Worcestershire, soy, tarragon, basil or dill and asparagus (minus reserved heads) in food processor and chop coarsely.
  4. Add olive oil to taste and to bring mixture to a saucy consistency.
  5. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Cook pasta of your choice
  7. Toss with sauce.
  8. Top with reserved asparagus heads, pine or walnut pieces and a little grated lemon zest.  Drizzle extra lemon juice on top and sprinkle on some good, course salt.
About Guy Hand:
Guy Hand is a writer, public radio producer and photographer specializing in food and agriculture.
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