Go to any schoolyard, and talk to the kids about food likes and dislikes. You’ll find out that French fries and pizza are big hits. But my guess is that among the Brussel sprouts, liver and avocado, asparagus will land unequivocally among the top-ten “Ewww, Gross, No way!” list.
I’ve always been a fan. Even when I was a kid, and asparagus came from a can, I liked those enigmatic green spears.
I don’t think I ever ate or even saw it fresh until I was in my teens. Then I thought myself quite the gourmand to purchase, prepare, and eat pipe-cleaner sized asparagus.
And I thought that grassy was just the flavor of fresh.
Au contraire, mon frère.
One day, many years ago, I purchased some fresh asparagus. On the tag was the farm’s phone number for more information about the veg, and recipes. So, I called it.
The produce gods must have been smiling down on me that day because the phone was answered by the farm’s owner. And this guy took me to asparagus school
We spoke for at least an hour. But by the time I hung up, he made sure I had a thorough understanding of his product.
The first thing we talked about is the life cycle of the plant. It’s a perennial, meaning instead of starting a new plant every year, it grows year after year. Many people already know this, but it must grow for a few years before the spears can be eaten. But a healthy plant might last up to thirty years, with many happy springtime harvests.
But those pencil-thin, so-called babies?
That’s what you get with a weak plant, or one that’s lived a full life and now is played out. It is not, let me repeat this; not desirable. It will never get the satisfying snap of a correctly cooked spear, and quelle surprise; tastes grassy because there is a surfeit of chlorophyll.
And this, I think, is why kids and many adults dislike this potentially delicious vegetable. They’ve never eaten a good spear, cooked well.
My farmer friend informed me that the best asparagus is bright, healthy green, as thick as your thumb, with closed, dry tips. Those restaurants that serve and grocers that sell those infuriating twigs are pulling the compost over your eyes. They’re not gourmet specimens, they’re lies.
Why don’t we see fatties in stores more often?
Because these are the vegetables that the farmers keep and eat themselves. And when they feast, sometimes they cook them like this:
2 pounds fat asparagus cleaned, with woody ends broken off
Juice of half lemon with zest set aside
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan + more for sprinkling
Salt & pepper
Whisk together all the ingredients except asparagus and sprinkling cheese. Pour the marinade over asparagus in shallow baking dish and let sit for one hour.
15 minutes before cooking, place a large baking sheet with cooling rack on it into oven and preheat to 450. Place veg onto cooling rack in single layer. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan and bake for 15-20 minutes turning once, until lightly tender, but crisp.
Place cooked asparagus into serving vessel and sprinkle with pinch of large flaky salt and reserved lemon zest. Serves 4-6.
And oh yeah, about that goose in the title? There’s no lurking fowl. Here at Chez Matthews, it’s just what we call asparagus.
Thanks for your time.