April marks the beginning of the peak season for asparagus and that means I'll be trying to work it into my menus at least twice a week ... maybe more! And even though I am an avid gardener, I don't have the patience to grow it myself -- asparagus needs at least two full growing seasons before spears are harvested! So I find myself relying on Brennan's, my favorite local farmers' and specialty market. If you're like me and are getting your asparagus from the market, there are some rules to follow when picking the perfect bunch:
The peak season for asparagus is April through May in the western states, and May through July in the rest of the United States. While it's available year round, asparagus is best enjoyed when it's in season.
Look for straight, green, rounded stalks that are free from damage or discolored spots.
Select firm asparagus that does not have a strong odor. Odors can indicate asparagus that's starting to rot!
Make sure the tips are small, closed and either dark green or purple. This is an indication of health and the age of the asparagus ... both important factors when choosing asparagus.
Avoid asparagus with woody stalks. The stalk's girth, however, does not affect its tenderness quotient; thin asparagus is no more likely to be tender than thick asparagus. Instead, choose thicker stalks for dishes in which asparagus will be on its own, like grilled asparagus or the side dish at the end of this column, or thinner stalks for dishes in which it will be included with other ingredients, like asparagus quiche or the frittata recipe below.
Once you get home, make sure the asparagus is either refrigerated or kept in cold water. Asparagus is best used the day you buy it, but it will keep for three to four days ... unless you didn't follow the directions above!
Of course, no primer on asparagus would be complete without a couple of recipes! This first one is a brunch favorite of mine, although it's equally at home as a late dinner with a glass of wine and a simple salad. In fact, when asparagus is in season, I usually have it with eggs in one form or another at least once a week! Crisp-tender asparagus is a wonderful addition to omelets, quiche ... even scrambled eggs. A little sharp cheese like Parmesan or aged cheddar helps make such a dish "pop" even more. Enjoy!
This simple frittata is an open-faced omelet that can be enjoyed any time of the day ... even as a simple dinner.
3/4 lb. asparagus
2 T. butter
6 large eggs
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 T. parsley
Salt and pepper
Prepare the asparagus by slicing the spears on the diagonal into 1/4 inch pieces, leaving the tips whole. Melt the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the asparagus and saute until it is crisp-tender. Remove to a dish.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl until well blended. Whisk in the Parmesan, parsley, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper.
Reheat the skillet over medium heat. Spray the pan lightly with cooking spray and add the asparagus. Add the eggs and stir briefly to make sure the asparagus pieces are evenly distributed, then reduce the heat to low or moderately low and cook without stirring until the frittata is almost completely set, about 20 minutes. The center should not be set.
While the frittata cooks, preheat the broiler and arrange a rack about 8 inches from the heating element. Put the skillet under the broiler and cook, watching constantly, until the surface of the frittata is firm and lightly colored. Let the frittata rest in the skillet for a few minutes, then transfer it to a platter or cutting board to cut into serving sized pieces.