cucina bene; mangia bene (appreciation of asparagus)
I’ve noticed that asparagus has started to show up in the grocery stores which means that Spring is coming! Asparagus means ‘stalk’ or ‘shoot’ in Greek. It is believed to have been cultivated there as early as 500 BC. The Greeks believed that asparagus was a medicinal herb and used it for curing many ailments—toothaches being one of them. The Romans developed a great love for asparagus and spread the love throughout their empire (as they did with many other fruits and vegetables).
Asparagus is celebrated in Italy today with sagras or festivals in April and May. One of the most famous is in Bassano del Grappa in the region of the Veneto where white asparagus is consumed (raw and cooked) in a variety of ways by Italians and visitors alike with wild abandon. White asparagus is produced by keeping it covered at all times from the sun. It must be harvested at the right time to produce the right length and thickness, hence it’s higher price tag. I’ve eaten white asparagus and have enjoyed it, but I like green asparagus better. I recently cooked for a lovely couple for Valentine’s Day and I served them steamed asparagus with a blood orange beurre blanc which was as delicious as it was pretty. Of course asparagus is delicious steamed, in stir-fry’s, omelets, grilled with prosciutto wrapped around them, with Hollandaise, and as a soup. I like medium-sized stalks and enjoy them best simply roasted in olive oil with a little salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
Did you know that asparagus is a lily? Just like onions, garlic, leeks and those beautiful flowers you grow in your garden or buy at the store. Asparagus spears grow in sandy soil from a crown that is best buried about a foot deep. It takes about three years before it can be harvested and once it begins to produce, it can continue to produce for up to 15 years! In ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow up to 10-inches in a 24 hour period. And best of all, asparagus is a nutrient rich vegetable.
The only down-side to asparagus is that some people produce off-smelling urine after consuming and digesting asparagus.
Most authorities feel that the compound that causes the odor in urine after consumption of asparagus is methylmercaptan, which is a sulfur-containing derivative of the amino acid, methionine. This is disputed by a few individuals who claim that the odiferous compound is asparagine-amino-succinic-acid monoamide, which is derived from the amino acid, asparagine. In either case, the product is formed as a derivative during the digestion and subsequent breakdown of beneficial amino acids that occur naturally in asparagus. (Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board)
Unfortunately, this by product of asparagus is enough to keep many people from eating it, either they have had the experience and are put off or they have heard about it and don’t want to take the chance. Too bad I say, the benefits of asparagus far outweigh the one detriment and one may as well stay away from things like garlic, beans and cabbage as well since they can too can have a negative impact during digestion. Live a little and enjoy this delicious and nutritious harbinger of Spring!
I already mentioned my favorite way to enjoy asparagus simply and will leave you with an asparagus risotto recipe (that is as close to how I make it minus the parmesan cheese) to help you celebrate……..buon appetitio!