I’ve been having such tremendous fun baking this month that I’ve neglected to post about my efforts with the May Eat Local Challenge. Lest you think I’ve been failing the challenge, I thought it was time to write a bit about my adventures in local eating.
One of the first foods that I focused on this month was asparagus. Volumes have been written about this elegant vegetable so I won’t bore you with yet another synopsis of the history and origin of asparagus. Suffice it to say that asparagus officinalis are the shoots of a perennial plant. Most asparagus that we see in markets here in North America are green in colour. I used to think that white asparagus was a different type of asparagus but this is incorrect. White asparagus has simply been grown in banks of earth so as not to be exposed to sunlight. This prevents the spears from turning green.
While spring is asparagus season, I will admit that the vegetable appears on our dinner table throughout the year. And to be even more honest, I’ve never paid particular attention to where this asparagus is coming from or how it was grown. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to partake of fresh Ontario asparagus, I will think twice before buying those bland, tasteless bunches of asparagus that appear in the grocery store in December.
Because we eat asparagus often, I wanted to try some recipes that were new to my family. We’re used to asparagus risotto and roasted asparagus. Instead, I decided to finally give white asparagus a sampling. I chose a recipe that was quick to prepare, had few ingredients and that would allow the flavour of the asparagus to be shine through. I settled on a recipe for Fusilli with White Asparagus, Brown Butter, Parmesan and Red Pepper Flakes.
Several people warned me that white asparagus would be tough and bitter. Nothing could be further from the truth. After peeling and blanching the white asparagus for a few minutes, I found it to be tender and slightly sweeter than green asparagus. The browned butter and a sprinkling of parmesan were the perfect foils to the white asparagus which married well with those ingredients. I added some red pepper flakes for colour and spiciness. This was a wonderful pasta that I will definitely make again.
For the next asparagus dish I returned to the more familiar green asparagus. While I contemplated making asparagus soup, I instead opted for a dish I’d tried once before, several years ago … Fettuccine with Asparagus Ribbons. This recipe calls for the asparagus spears to be peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. The pasta sauce is made with cream, lemon juice and lemon zest. It’s another quick pasta dish that’s also very elegant … perfect for a dinner party.
What a difference fresh, local asparagus makes! Both pasta dishes were fantastic and I will be making them again to take full advantage of Ontario’s asparagus season. I’m still going to try asparagus soup and a few other asparagus dishes I’ve come across. For now, however, I’m happy with my pasta dishes. I hope that you will give them a try and discover the joy of fresh, locally grown asparagus.
Fusilli with White Asparagus, Brown Butter, Parmesan and Red Pepper Flakes
Adapted from Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone by Alice Waters.
- Fusilli for 4 people
- 1-1/2 pounds white asparagus
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- salt and pepper
- Peel the asparagus and blanch in boiling, salted water until tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Let the asparagus cool and then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the butter until it begins to turn golden brown. As soon as it begins to change colour, remove from the heat.
- Add the asparagus and red pepper flakes to the browned butter and set aside.
- Cook the fusilli according to package directions.
- Add the cooked fusilli to the butter and asparagus and heat gently for a minute or two. Add the parmesan and mix well.
- Serve immediately.
Fettuccine with Asparagus Ribbons
Note: The Fusilli with White Asparagus, Brown Butter, Parmesan and Red Pepper Flakes will serve 4. The Fettucine with Asparagus Ribbons will serve 4-6.
Visit the Ontario Asparagus Growers’ Marketing Board for more information about asparagus, as well as some very enticing recipes.
If you have a moment, read the article "Why Things End Badly With Asparagus" published in The Toronto Star on May 14, 2006. The article was written by Kenneth Kidd. You may discover that you’re related to Babe Ruth …