What it is: A member of the lily family, asparagus is a favorite spring vegetable. It comes in many varieties, generally characterized by color: from dark to light green, and purple. The differences in flavor are slight.
Where it comes from: Known as the “vegetable of kings,” and prized since the beginnings of history, asparagus is pictured on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 B.C. France’s Louis XIV prized it so, he had special greenhouses built for growing it.
While the green spears are available year round, beginning in April, prices drop and bumper crops start to come to market.
The diameter of an asparagus spear depends somewhat on variety but also on the age of the plant from which it grows. Older plants — asparagus plants can live 15 years — produce fatter, more tender spears. White asparagus is grown by shielding the growing spears from sunlight to prevent the plant from forming chlorophyll.
What to do with it: When shopping, look for straight, round stalks; they should be tender, crisp and green, with compact, closed tips and just about an inch of woody base. To prepare asparagus for cooking, wash the spears thoroughly in cold water and trim or break off the tough ends at the point where they snap easily. (Discard the ends or save them for soup.)
Peeling the stalks isn’t necessary but peeled asparagus cooks more evenly. Peeled stalks will be more tender; unpeeled asparagus has more bite.
Store asparagus in the refrigerator, wrapped in damp paper towels or in a jar with a few inches of water in the bottom.
Asparagus is usually steamed, boiled or microwaved. At Glen Prairie in Glen Ellyn, Chef Danny Ovanin gives slender spears a brisk bath in boiling water and serves them chilled with prosciutto and truffle vinaigrette.
Glen Prairie’s asparagus appetizer
Chef Danny Ovanin
9 asparagus spears, cleaned and peeled
3 thin slices prosciutto
1 mixed mushrooms, sliced
Butter as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablepoons truffle vinaigrette (recipe below)
5 shavings of pepato cheese or asiago
1/8 teaspoon Maldon smoked sea salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus in and cook for about 4 minutes, until crisp/tender. Shock in ice water. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Saute the mushrooms in butter until they are tender. Season with salt and pepper.
Wrap 3 asparagus with one piece of prosciutto. Repeat so you have three bundles of asparagus. Arrange on plate.
Top the asparagus with the mushrooms and drizzle with truffle vinaigrette.
Garnish with the cheese and smoked sea salt. 1 serving.
Truffle balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup demiglace (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup white truffle oil
2-1/2 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the vinegars, soy sauce, demiglace and mustard in a blender; slowly drizzle in truffle and olive oils to emulsify. Season to taste. 4 cups.