velocius quam asparagi coquantur!
Emperor Augustus would bellow, spurring his soldiers on. Roughly translated as “Faster than cooking asparagus,” he’s saying “hurry up, get a wriggle on!”.
Augustus was such a connoisseur of asparagus he organized elite military units to procure it for him. The Asparagus Fleets made rounds in the empire to import the best varietals back to Rome. Smart fellow.
The earliest domestication goes back to the ancient Greeks in Macedonia, while asparagus grew wild all over Europe, Asia and Africa, particularly near the sea due to its ability to grow in high salinity. So much so, salt was used as a weed suppressant for asparagus crops!
Let’s get that talking point out of the way early; Asparagus makes your pee smell. If you say it doesn’t, you’re a bit different... A study has found that some are unable to smell the ammonia. It is a genetic variance in humans, much like those who taste soap when eating coriander.
Asparagus plants can be cropped each spring for 15 years or more. The plants take a few seasons to mature and produce edible stalks. Only young asparagus shoots are eaten: once the buds start to open the shoots turn woody. Stem thickness indicates the age of the plant, with thicker stems coming from older plants. The female asparagus produces a berry, resulting in lower stalk yield. Most commercial growers use genetic male clones to ensure the biggest crop.
White asparagus, a German delicacy is not actually a genetic variant. Farmers pile soil over the shoots, protecting them from the sun to keep them pale. It is the most labour-intensive vegetable to produce, requiring hand picking and near constant darkness. On the other hand, purple asparagus (‘Violetto d' Albenga') is an Italian genetic variant, higher in sugar and lower in fibre than its green counterpart.
There are a number of locales around the world claiming to be the asparagus capital, holding their own festivals and crowning a queen every year. But if there are multiple asparagus queens each year, who is the true monarch of the stalk? I think there’s a Miss Universe style comp to crown our new asparagus empress waiting to be held.
Asparagus is a great food for a healthy diet, with 93% water content and both soluble and insoluble fiber, it’s a great low calorie, gut healthy ingredient. It’s naturally low in sodium and a good source of vit A, C and K. It can help fight UTI’s and for once the Roman’s were right, it does promote reproductive health!
Wash well to remove dirt and grit. Trim the base, it is easy to spot, it's where the colour turns from green to white-ish green. Sauté in a hot pan, boil briefly, or roast in a hot oven (with butter, salt and garlic if you know what’s good for ya!) Older, larger asparagus may require peeling. This will make the cooking process much quicker.
Wrap asparagus in a damp tea towel and place in the fridge in a Ziploc bag.
Trim the bottoms and stand the spears up in a glass or jar with about an inch of water. Cover with a plastic bag then refrigerate them for up to 4 days.
Asparagus freezes poorly when fresh. If you do, freeze on a baking tray, spread out so they don’t stick together then transfer to an airtight bag. For the best results, trim, blanch and quick chill your asparagus before freezing.
- Espárragos en jamón de Parma: A national dish of Italy. Asparagus wrapped in parma ham.
- Asparagus rolls with Skordalia (A Greek dip made from garlic, citrus and left over bread or potatoes)
- Spargel Mit Sauce: German white asparagus with hollandaise