In spring asparagus are at their best, allowing us to enjoy them fresh, as offered by the Greek soil. Some call them the aristocrats of vegetables. Rumor has it that they are the favourite vegetable of the Europeans in their white, green or purple version; when not eaten alone as a salad, they accompany the gourmet dishes.
History and origin
Asparagus are Angiosperms Monocots. They were known in Ancient Egypt, as they are depicted in frescoes in the pyramids dating back to 5000 bC without this meaning that they were cultivated. They might have been native. Asparagus is said to have been cultivated in Asia Minor 2000 years before the time of the Romans.
Their journey and cultivation continued from the Mediterranean to Northern Europe and from there to North America. White asparagus was produced in northern Europe while the green kind was preferred by North America. How did they find their way into Greece? Well, they first appeared as a native plant in humid and semi-mountainous areas. Very soon people understood their value and thus their intensive cultivation began.
The nutritional value of asparagus
Asparagus are not only delicious, they are also nutritionally valuable. They are full of vitamins such as A, C, E, K but also rich in folic acid. Asparagus are a good source of fiber and chromium. Asparagus are also a particularly rich source of glutathione which is a detoxifying substance. And of course, asparagus belong to the closed category of fruits and vegetables that retain the lowest levels of microbicide residues.
Those lucky enough to be living in the Greek countryside have the blessing to “stumble” on the wild asparagus. The wording is an exaggeration, of course, considering the fact that the hunt of wild asparagus is such that they are hardly available for anyone to stumble upon. And why is this happening? Quite simply because the taste of wild asparagus is by far superior and does not compare to that of the cultivated ones.
In any case, at this time of year asparagus abound on the stalls of open air markets or super markets and grocery stores. What you need to do is choose between white asparagus with the delicate and fine flavour or the thiner green ones, whose taste is stronger and resembles more the thin green or purple wild asparagus. Fresh asparagus have firm stems and their tips are tough and tightly closed. In fact, their tips are easily broken as soon as we try to bend them. If you find wilted asparagus that feel soft to the touch and are elastic at the breaking of the tip, you should know that they are not fresh.
The asparagus on our plate
The most widespread way of cooking asparagus is in an omelet. If you decide that you want to enjoy your asparagus with eggs, and given the fact that the egg flavor is intense, opt to add them at the end, preferably after having sautéed them on their own in a little butter. Another way to eat asparagus is to steam them very lightly or cook them on the grill. Only the tender part of the asparagus can be consumed, that is, from the middle up to the tip. Garnished with coarse salt and a few drops of balsamic vinegar, asparagus can become your favourite spring salad.
Use a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife to peel off the skin from the bottom half of each asparagus spear, cutting off and discarding the last 2cm at the bottom. An extra tip for you to enjoy steamed but vibrant and crisp asparagus is to immerse them in ice water for 5 minutes as soon as they have cooked and then dry them in a tea towel.
Boiled asparagus perfectly accompany a salmon fillet with butter sauce and saffron or roasted shrimps with multi coloured pepper corns. If you want to get 100% of the asparagus’ flavour, just bake them in the oven set on high temperature without adding anything more than coarse salt. Asparagus go well with prosciutto and smoked pork. Try them in an orzo risotto with prosciutto, mushrooms, and white balsamic vinegar. And of course, for a quick pasta dinner with asparagus, you will not need anything more than green asparagus, a few cloves of garlic that lift off their flavour and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese. If you want to give your palate a pleasant surprise, a few drops of lime will do the miracle.