Try Tasty, Local Asparagus
Stalk up now! It’s healthy, versatile and only available fresh for a brief time.
Asparagus is a sure sign that spring has arrived. It is the first seasonal, locally grown vegetable to appear. Part of the iris family, asparagus is exceptionally tender and sweet, especially early on in the two-month growing season. Because asparagus begins to lose flavor after it has been picked, it is important to source it out as close to home as possible.
Thankfully, there are growers like Andy Vermeulen of Vermeulen Farms located in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Vermeulen began growing vegetables in 1988. It was the fulfillment of a dream that began back in 1980 when he was a young farmer just starting out. Vermeulen wanted to create a “food to fork” concept among producers and consumers. His intention was simple—to grow food that required little or no production between farm and store. The perfect vegetable to fit the bill was asparagus, for while it can be boiled and served as a side dish or incorporated into soups and recipes, it’s also delicious eaten raw right out of the field.
Like many farmers, asparagus growers like Vermeulen experience challenges. Because the growing season here begins approximately 10 days behind Ontario and some parts of the US, there is already an influx onto the market when local producers enter the scene. This lowers their price and many local asparagus farmers begin their season with a deficit. The growing popularity of locals supporting locals can make a huge difference in this area.
The health benefits of asparagus are many. Asparagus is high in calcium and fiber, and it contains vitamins A, B and C. It’s low-calorie, contains no fat and little sodium, is thought to be a great diuretic to reduce water retention, and is also very beneficial for your skin.
The part of the asparagus we eat is the first 20 to 25 cms to break through the soil. If left to grow uninhibited, an asparagus plant will grow more almost two metres tall!
There are a few simple tricks that will ensure that your asparagus is cooked to perfection. Because the bottom ends of the asparagus tend to be a bit woody, you can place your asparagus on a cutting board and uniformly remove them so that your asparagus is all one length, but you lose a portion of good quality asparagus this way. Instead, try holding an asparagus spear by both ends and gently bending it. It will naturally break at the point where it was becoming tough, leaving you with only the tender bits.
The best way to cook asparagus is in a tall, cylindrical asparagus pot that may have a basket. Place enough water in the pot so that the stalks will be immersed but the tips will remain uncovered. Bring the water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook for approximately three to four minutes. A regular pot will also work, however, because you have to place the tips in the water, you may find they do not hold up quite as well. Despite being mushy, the flavour should not be affected.
Roasting the asparagus with a little olive oil and coarse salt works wonderfully as well.
Along with green asparagus, you may have noticed white asparagus on the shelves of your local grocer. White asparagus is harvested before the shoots have broken ground. Because the plant has had no contact with the sun, chlorophyll is not produced and the plant is unable to turn green. While tasty, white asparagus tends to be a little less tender than the green variety.
Asparagus can also be frozen. Simply blanch stalks for one minute, place them on a cookie sheet and once frozen, transfer them in bunches to freezer bags. Vermeulen has had success freezing asparagus without blanching it first, especially if stalks are straight out of the garden.
Whichever way you opt to cook or freeze asparagus, this truly is one of those do-not-miss vegetables. It’s healthy, versatile and only available fresh for a short time.
Recipes featured in this article:
- Vermeulen Fresh Asparagus with Wasabi-Mayonnaise
- Andy Vermeulen’s Favourite Barbecued Asparagus
- Cream of Spring Asparagus and Onion Soup
- Asian-style Asparagus and Lobster Noodle salad