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Asparagus is the most revered spring vegetable. The word asparagus comes from the ancient Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The ancient Egyptians cultivated asparagus and oﬀered it to numerous gods and the Romans had an expression, “Velocius quam asparagi coquantur”, meaning faster than you can cook asparagus. It was a rare and expensive vegetable in the 1890s in the United States, but then cultivation helped to tame the price. It was inevitable that the asparagus should be treated as an aphrodisiac given its shape, which, an Elizabethan writer remarked, it ‘manifestly provoked Venus.”
Although grown in quite a large scale and in many countries, asparagus is available in abundance from March to late June. There are over 300 varieties of asparagus, only 20 of which are edible.
They are divided into three main categories:
Green asparagus. This is the most common type of asparagus. It is harvested at a height of about 8 inches.
White asparagus. Grown in the dark (covered with soil to keep it from turning green), white asparagus is harvested as soon as it emerges from the ground. Although more tender than the green variety, it tends to be less flavorful, and is more expensive, since more work is required to grow it.
Purple asparagus: This variety has a fruity flavor and is harvested when only 2 to 3 inches high.
How to buy asparagus:
Whether asparagus are thin or thick, choose them with firm, crisp stalks and compact brightly colored heads with no trace of rust or softness. The bottom of the stalk should be moist when squeezed, not dry and woody. Avoid yellowish asparagus with soft stalks that are beginning to flower, these are signs that it is old.
Store asparagus vertically in 1 inches of water in a container, stem-side-down in the refrigerator.
Serve this easy make-ahead dish as a starter or a side. The asparagus is enhanced by the marinade and grilling.
Makes four servings
George Hirsch Lifestyle
1 pound fresh asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup calamata olives, pitted and split
Fresh ground black pepper
Cut the stem ends off the asparagus and discard; peel the asparagus up to the beginning of the tip ends with a vegetable peeler.
Combine a 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano in a shallow rectangular dish. Marinate the asparagus in this mixture for 1 hour.
Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium temperature.
Remove the asparagus from the marinade and grill for about 5 minutes, basting with the marinade. Turn the asparagus as needed so they do not burn.
Remove the asparagus from the grill, top with lemon zest, parmesan cheese and olives. Top with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve at room temperature.