Asparagus is a great spring vegetable and is also a diuretic; it will help your kidneys cleanse your body of toxins. Some say it is also an aphrodisiac! Beyond that, it is loaded with essential minerals. I love it raw with a healthy dip, as a creamy soup, added to a fresh salad, mixed into a vegetable soup at the end of cooking to add a bit of crisp crunch, sautéed into a stir fry, added to pasta primavera, oven roasted with garlic and rosemary, or as a simple side dish grilled or steamed and topped with a bit of lemon pepper and butter. Actually, asparagus pairs well with just about anything, except my husband … It is probably the top vegetable on his “I will not eat” list. He dislikes a few others, but asparagus is his No. 1 all-time, no-thank you vegetable. As for our daughters and I, we can’t get enough of this versatile vegetable except canned, ugh! I don’t like those mushy, canned spears.
They say this versatile vegetable has been around since at least 3,000 BC. Ancient Greek physician Galen mentioned asparagus as a beneficial medicinal herb. Around 1685, it was advertised in North America as a crop that grew well in the new-world climate. In springtime in Greece, before refrigeration it was eaten fresh when in season and dried to use in soups and stews in winter. Even now my friend Koula, who lives in Crete, picks young wild asparagus every spring for her Cretan vegetable recipes. There are so many facts about this, one of my favorite vegetables, but what about the other varieties, white asparagus and Italy’s purple?
Let’s start with purple asparagus. It tastes a lot like green asparagus, but has a bit more antioxidant properties. I’m not a big fan; it costs more and unless I’m serving it raw, the color fades to a dull grayish-purple color. Enough said!
On to white asparagus, is it an albino mutation? No, it isn’t, it’s a method of growing covered with soil or under a plastic tarp without exposing it to sunlight. Without the sun there is no photosynthesis, so the baby asparagus shoots stay white. It is often called “white gold” or “edible ivory” asparagus. I think it tastes less bitter and is more tender, but my husband doesn’t like this variety either! So on Father’s Day next month … no asparagus. For now, “Please Join Our Table” as we enjoy this delicious tender spear of spring!
David Young’s Shrimp and Grits with Asparagus
Chef David Young, formerly of The Sea Shack on Hilton Head Island, S.C., gave me this recipe years ago.
3 slices uncured bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon grapeseed or peanut oil
1 1/4 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined*
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 1/4 cups sliced Baby Bella mushrooms
1 bunch fresh asparagus, snapped and sliced on an angle into 2-inch pieces
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 package cheese grits mix, made to package directions 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
Shredded pepper jack cheese for topping (optional)
* I like large shrimp for this, 21 to 30 count, but you can also use medium, 31 to 35; any smaller and I think the shrimp becomes overcooked.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp, approximately 6-7 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels but keep the bacon fat in pan and add grapeseed oil to give you approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons. In a large Ziploc bag, toss the shrimp with the flour and Old Bay Seasoning until they are lightly coated. Remove from bag and gently shake off extra flour. Over medium-high heat, cook the shrimp 2 minutes in the pan with the bacon fat and grapeseed oil. Turn the shrimp over and add mushrooms, bacon and asparagus. Cook until shrimp is just done, about another 2-3 minutes (do not to overcook the shrimp). Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, stirring constantly; do not brown the garlic, it will turn bitter. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, Tabasco, pepper jack cheese and green onions. Spoon over cheese grits. Serves 4-6.
2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup half and half cream
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Bring water and broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Whisk in the grits, half and half and salt, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits are thickened, about 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the cheeses, butter, pepper and Tabasco, adding more seasoning if needed. Serves 4-6.
My Easy Asparagus Noodles
1 bunch asparagus
8 ounces of fettuccine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Using a paring knife or peeler, cut a bunch of asparagus lengthwise into thin strips. Boil 8 ounces of fettuccine pasta, adding the asparagus during the last minute of cooking. Drain and toss with butter, EVOO, minced garlic, red pepper and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: If you don’t want to cut the asparagus lengthwise into thin strips, just chop it into 2-inch diagonal pieces and cook it that way.