Creative uses for Asparagus
Fragrant, delicate, and rejuvenating, asparagus share many qualities with springtime. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that they’re the vegetable that best represents this season of rebirth, when we recharge our energies and return to a more active and vibrant life!
The first sprouts of asparagus typically appear toward the end of March, as the weather changes, and you can enjoy them at their best until May. Famously fat-free and high in protein, asparagus bring many physical benefits thanks to their antioxidant, diuretic, and purifying properties. They can also improve mood through vitamin B12 and serotonin, which both help increase energy and mental well-being.
Nature offers a wide range of asparagus with different flavors and colors, creating endless possibilities for recipes, always of the aesthetically pleasing variety. We can buy green, white or even purple asparagus but few people know that their color doesn’t depend on their specific type, but on the way they are grown and exposed to sunlight. Every region has its own traditions and techniques for growing asparagus; often this is tied to PDO regulations (protected designation of origin, or DOP, Denominazione di Origine Protetta, in Italian). In many cases, farmers use centuries-old techniques that have been handed down for generations… suffice it to say that the Romans built ships that were specifically designed for transporting this delicious vegetable!
White asparagus grow completely covered by mounds of soil and are picked as soon as their sprouts come out of the subsoil, before the plants are subjected to sunlight and its effects. Devoid of chlorophyll, their flavor is the most delicate and they can be eaten uncooked, in carpaccio. Violet asparagus are nothing but white asparagus whose apexes, just before being harvested, have been exposed to sunlight. This processing gives them a fruity flavor. Growers in Mezzago, Lombardy, have managed to create pink asparagus! Classic green asparagus are, of course, most familiar, and absorb the largest amount of sunlight. Finally, there’s the super-in-demand wild asparagus, a real gem for Mediterranean cuisine lovers.They have a sweet flavor, with hints of freshly cut grass. If you want to find it you have to be rather adventurous: heading out into holm oak woods, deciduous forests and hedges.A little effort will be rewarded with a strong flavor that will make your risotto and omelette become a true delight!
Versatility is the name of the game when asparagus are in the kitchen! They are absolutely delightful both boiled and steamed, seasoned with a little olive oil or stir-fried with butter and Grana Padano cheese, or even uncooked, thinly sliced and enhanced with a little squeeze of lemon. Eggs are one go-to match for asparagus: fried, boiled or in a super tasty omelette. You can reach the highest peaks of sublime flavor by combining them with truffle flakes or with matured cheese, with Parmesan being the best option. In this case, high-quality raw ingredients will make a real difference!
Asparagus is also one of the few vegetables that perfectly blends with all types of meat, including cured ones, as well as with fish and shellfish… the only flaw of this precious plant is its short seasonality, so fully enjoying it throughout the spring is a must! Risotto is another perfect way to use asparagus: delicate but with a unique taste, this specialty is perfect as the days get longer and the evenings a bit balmy. To make it irresistible, you need only whisk in a glass of white wine, while if you’re feeling extra indulgent, you can toss in speck, bacon or sausage. Do you want an even more creamy effect? Mix the asparagus in the blender and add them before whisking your risotto.
For more of a pasta mood, try creating an alternative stuffing for ravioli or cannelloni by mixing ever-versatile asparagus with scamorza or ricotta cheese. You can also combine them with shrimp, shellfish or cuttlefish to season pennette (ridged only, of course!) or fusilli that will fully catch their flavor.
For days when you’re in a hurry or just need to clean out the fridge, opt for a savory tart with a practical puff pastry roll. Try filling it with asparagus and anything you find! Making a “bad pairing” isn’t really possible with asparagus. As an alternative, you can add asparagus in a healthy mixed salad; it will lend the mix a special bite.
Asparagus cream is a real treat for the palate: use potatoes (which will enhance their flavor), the ever-present white wine, shallots, and a pinch of pepper. In case you want to give a final touch, add a handful of chives or a couple of basil leaves. This dish is delicious and energizing.
Of course asparagus need little dressing up to taste delicious. Enjoy them as a side dish simply seasoned with oil or butter, or marinated. They can be used to enhance scallops, roulades and even stew, whose flavor will become particular and more refined.
However you prepare this springtime staple, you will absolutely need a good wine. If you serve meat, eggs and pasta, the best wine to match is for sure a red one. You can choose between Brunello di Montalcino and a Chianti Classico, but Sangiovese can also give great satisfaction. Otherwise, if you enjoy a risotto, a seafood dish or just boiled or au gratin asparagus, their flavors will be greatly enhanced by Riesling or by a classic Muller Thurgau.
Happy spring and bon appétit!
- Shopping tips: the perfect asparagus have tough, flexible stems, resistant to breakage, with a uniform thickness. If you don’t cook them in the short term, put their stems in the water, so that their flavor will be preserved. With any leftovers, you can create an original centerpiece by mixing them with delicate white roses or use them as charming napkin holders by setting asparagus with an elegant golden bow!