is on the horizon, I anticipate no other vegetable with such great
enthusiasm as asparagus. I am not alone. In Italy, especially
the Veneto region, everyone goes crazy over the tender stalks.
They appear on the menu every day in every restaurant, trattoria,
osteria and home until the season is officially declared
over on June 13, the Feast of Saint Anthony. Tavagnacco, in the
Friuli region, has a giant agricultural asparagus cooperative
(Agricoop Asparagi), and is the home of a white asparagus festival
during the last two weeks in May. The best-known white asparagus
in the Veneto region comes from Bassano, which is also famous
for its pottery.
of the lily family, asparagus is at its best from March through
early May. I enjoy it so much that when it's in season, I cook
it almost every day. Asparagus has been a symbol of luxury, elegant
in appearance, and often richly sauced, yet it's best eaten with
the fingers. You can hold it daintily, dip it into the sauce of
your choice, and not look indelicate as you take a delicious bite.
common asparagus is a brilliant green, with slightly purple tips.
There is also a purple asparagus, but it turns green when cooked.
At some markets you can now buy the white asparagus, so beloved
by Europeans that they hold annual festivals in its honor. The
white variety is more expensive due to the extra effort it takes
to cultivate it. As they grow taller, the stalks must be covered
with mounds of earth to prevent them from seeing daylight, thus
prohibiting them from turning their natural green.
asparagus with firm stalks and tightly closed tips. An open tip
means that the asparagus is past its prime and will taste grassy
and bitter, not sweet. In fact, it's sweetest if you cook it as
soon as you buy it. However you may store asparagus in the fridge
for a day or so. The best way to keep it is to cut off an inch
of stalk and stand the asparagus in a container with about 2 inches
of water, then cover with a plastic bag. This keeps the asparagus
more juicy and flexible.
has a natural breaking point. Snap each stalk and discard the
woody bottoms. Pencil thin stalks need no peeling and can probably
be trimmed to uniform lengths with a knife, as they have not developed
any woodiness. However, medium to large asparagus will profit
from peeling. Place the asparagus flat on the counter top, hold
the tip gently, and peel from mid-stem down to the bottom with
a sharp vegetable peeler.
you want the firm stalks and delicate tips of the asparagus to
cook perfectly at the same time. The most foolproof way to cook
asparagus is to steam it standing up. Tie it in one fat bundle,
place it in two to three inches of boiling water, and cook covered,
so the tops steam and the bottoms cook. Depending upon the thickness
of the stalks it will take from five minutes for pencil-thin asparagus,
to ten or 12 minutes for jumbo stalks. A point of a knife will
penetrate the stalks easily when they are done.
If you lack
the proper pan for vertical cooking, bring a wide deep saucepan
of water to a boil. Drop in the asparagus and when they are tender
but still crisp (timing will vary), remove with tongs or a wide
wire skimmer, then transfer to a bowl of cold water. Plunging
the asparagus in cold water will stop the cooking process and
set the color. Be sure to drain all asparagus well and pat dry
should be peeled completely before cooking to become tender. It
must be boiled in water, with salt and a bit of sugar and lemon
juice, and it takes longer to cook than the green variety. At
the thickest part of the stalk, keep testing for doneness with
the point of a knife. Two pounds of untrimmed asparagus will feed
four as a first course, and six as a side dish.
melted butter or hollandaise used to be the most common sauces
for this elegant vegetable, today we know that extra virgin olive
oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar, or orange and lemon juice
can make asparagus shine. Add some toasted pinenuts or hazelnuts
and you'll have a most festive dish.
Joyce Goldstein's amazing asparagus recipes:
Risotto with Gremolata
Asparagus and Red Potatoes with
Goldstein is a consultant to the restaurant and food
industries. For 12 years she was chef/owner of the
ground- breaking, award-winning Mediterranean restaurant
SQUARE ONE in San Francisco. In addition, she taught
cooking for 18 years. Joyce is the author of many
cookbooks, including Sephardic Flavors - Jewish Cooking
of the Mediterranean, Cucina Ebraica, Flavors of the
Italian Jewish Kitchen, and The Mediterranean Kitchen.