Asparagus is a perennial vegetable native to the Eastern Mediterranean. The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning 'sprout' or 'shoot'. Asparagus spears are the growing leaves of shoots of the plant. The tall, fernlike plant grows for three years before the shoots emerge. Harvesting asparagus is extremely labor intensive-the tender spears must all be cut by hand when approximately nine inches long. Growers pack fresh asparagus in sheds located near the fields and send it to market within hours of packing. Specially designed crates and boxes are used to maintain freshness and protect asparagus from damage. Like many vegetables, asparagus starts losing its sweetness the moment it is cut. The quality of asparagus can be determined by color and shape. Asparagus should be smooth skinned and bright green with compact and closed tips. The butt end should be free of any discoloration-brown spots indicate an older cut. Asparagus is best eaten as soon as possible after harvesting, but to store put the bunched asparagus in warm water, tips up and refrigerate.
The Delta crop usually starts by the first of March and will continue through May, weather permitting
Asparagus is served whole, either grilled, steamed or boiled or can be cut up and sautéed or stir-fried for vegetable ragouts and pasta sauces. Thinner asparagus is better suited for sauté and sauces, while the thicker and fatter sizes are excellent for blanching in hot water and grilling.
Asparagus can be prevented from turning green by being banked with earth as it grows, keeping the shoots underground. This 'blanched' variety is the preferred variety in Europe and the spears are completely white except for the tips, which are tinged with pink, violet or purple-Americans prefer the green spears. Asparagus comes in several sizes-pencil, standard, large, extra large and jumbo- and one size is not necessarily more tender than another. Though available year round from various parts of the world, asparagus is at its best when the crop originates from the Sacramento Delta region. Roughly designated as the area near the confluence of two great rivers-the Sacramento and San Joaquin-the Delta is known for its rich, peat like soil that has proven to be perfect for the asparagus plant. The California crop, when finished, is replaced by asparagus from Washington, which in turn is replaced by a crop from Mexico. Then, in the dead of winter, the crop will come from as far away as Peru and then back to Mexico and California.
- Cheese, chevre, Parmesan, pecorino, ricotta
- Crème fraiche
- Fava beans
- Mushrooms, cremini, morels, shiitakes
- Olive oil
- Vinegar, champagne, red wine, sherry, white wine
- January 30, 2012