Sunday, May 15, 2011


Just cooked fresh asparagus spears!

I’ve often wondered if grocery store produce departments offered frequent flier miles for fruits and vegetables purchased within a given year, what fruit or vegetable would collect the largest number of miles? I did some research and learned asparagus generally logs more miles in a week than commercial airline pilots! By the time this delicate vegetable finds its way into your grocery store basket it has traveled the globe.

Most of the asparagus we purchase hails from as far away places as Peru, China and California. As the crow flies, Peru is 3,536 miles from Maryland, China 7, 446 and California 3,000! Peru is currently the world’s leading asparagus exporter having overtaken other major U.S. and China producers. 

This is an example of precisely what happened in Hadley, Massachusetts (297 miles from Maryland) which until recently was the asparagus capitol of the world. Today the bulk of their asparagus harvest is imported. Towns surrounding Hadley don’t even supply “Hadley grown” asparagus at any local Farmer’s markets!

This isn’t the way we intended to protect, preserve and honor our local agriculture; we need to reverse the trend. To do this and to prevent the carbon footprint from having more of an impact on our environment, we need to buy food in its growing season. There are so many added benefits to eating foods in their growing season; foremost, food is at its peak flavor and it offers the most nutrients.

Selecting, Storing and Preparing

The asparagus season is brief and runs generally from April through May. Asparagus stalks should be rounded, look for firm stems with deep green or purplish closed tips. The thickness of asparagus spears is a matter of preference, (and will determine the cooking time) I’ve discovered over the years the most flavorful spears are medium sized. Use asparagus within one to two days of purchasing. To store, remove the bands that bound the stalks. Store in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a paper towel. Before cooking, remove woody end (about 1-2 inches from the bottom) from each stalk.

Serving suggestions

Asparagus can be served hot or cold. If you’re serving cold asparagus, (although I think serving the spears cold mutes their flavor) plunge the stalks in cold water immediately after cooking, once cold, remove the stalks and transfer to a kitchen towel. Many methods can be applied when cooking asparagus. Stalks can be steamed, boiled, broiled or grilled. I tested each method and discovered the most flavorful asparagus is boiled; it evokes a clean mild flavor and preserves the bright green color. 

Creamy Lemon Pasta with Asparagus

Lemon and asparagus are a complementing combination. This recipe is simple to assemble, colorful, refreshing and so representative of spring. The dish stands on its’ own but if you want to serve accompaniments, toss baby lettuce leaves with an oil and vinegar dressing and serve with slices of olive bread.

When preparing this dish, for optimum results, the eggs and milk should be at room temperature. The ingredients are easier to incorporate if the pasta is broken in half before cooking. Be sure to grate the lemon zest before you juice the lemon.

2 eggs
1 cup milk
8-ounces angel hair pasta
One bunch fresh asparagus trimmed of woody end and cut into 1-inch pieces (cutting the asparagus on the diagonal adds to the presentation)
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium bowl, whisk until well combined eggs and milk. Cook pasta in salted boiling water for about 4 minutes, add asparagus and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is just fork tender, drain. While the pasta and asparagus are cooking, melt butter, in a medium skillet over moderate heat, add lemon rind, lemon juice and salt, cook for 1 minute. Pour lemon/butter mixture over pasta and asparagus and toss. Add egg/milk combination to pasta/asparagus mixture and cook over low heat for a few minutes or until mixture slightly thickens, stirring constantly, serve immediately. Serve Parmesan cheese buffet style. Serves 4-6.