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I am reminded it's spring because the calendar says it's so. But, what do you do on those days when the weather says otherwise, like all this rain lately? I suggest bringing spring into your kitchen with ingredients that say spring flavor. What first comes to mind is asparagus. It's so versatile; you can steam, sauté, roast, and if you must, fry it - preferably tempura.
Some conversational tidbits to keep in your pocket for your next dinner party or in a full elevator:
- The word asparagus comes from the ancient Persian word asparag, meaning a sprout. The ancient Egyptians cultivated asparagus and dedicated it as an offering to numerous Gods. It must have been considered very important back then. And the Romans have 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 considered as an aphrodisiac given its shape, which an Elizabethan writer remarked it 'manifestly provoked Venus'.
- Asparagus is a young edible shoot, commonly known as "spear". The spear rises from an underground stem called a "crown", which is capable of producing spears for 15 to 20 years. Most asparagus is harvested in spring, when it is 6 to 8 inches high and has tender, fleshy spears and tight compact heads. Once they reach maturity, the asparagus stalks become woody and fernlike foliage grows from the heads, making them inedible.
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.