Snap and Go Asparagus (fast and fun)

4 Jan

I dared to go off-season this week and it was well worth it.

When Spring rolls around I am on the phone to the local North Fork farms to find out exactly when they will be harvesting asparagus. There is nothing, nothing, nothing  better than the sweet, buttery green-ness of fresh-from-the-earth asparagus. I eat it for the six weeks of May and June that it is harvested (nevermind the odd smell of bathroom visits! More on that later), raw, steamed, sauteed, roasted…however.

However, it is not Spring right now! Asparagus may be in season somewhere, but not in my grow Zone.

Usually I stick to our local seasons, but the bunches of asparagus at one of the local grocery stores just looked so good that I got a craving that virtue could not curb. Hey, it’s been a tough holiday and virtue doesn’t seem to be handing out its own rewards at the moment. What the imported stuff lacked in farm-to-table zest, I made up for in garlic.

At $3.99 a lb, you might not find asparagus cheap (especially when you snap a third off the bottom!). Asparagus (which is a member of the lily family) tends to be expensive because it has to be harvested by hand. But it is certainly easy to prepare, and made for a speedy yet chic snack for me and my friend Jamie on a recent playdate (during which the kids ate – you guessed it – pizza). 

Please note, you can look very sexy nibbling asparagus if you let yourself go a bit. For that purpose, and for this barely-cooked recipe, I recommend the skinny asparagus over the fat.

Snap and Go Garlic Asparagus

1 bunch fresh asparagus (about a pound), rinsed and trimmed*

1-2 Tbs olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, not too fine

salt for sprinkling

Heat the oil in a large skillet at medium heat until fragrant. Toss in the garlic, turn to coat, sauté an additional minute, then toss in the asparagus. Stir to coat then allow to cook for 5-10 minutes (the fresher and thinner the shorter the cook time). You can test them after five minutes by trying a stalk. You just want it tender and warm, but not mushy. Sprinkle with salt, and serve.

*Prepping the asparagus is fast and easy, but requires some explaining:

Rinse the stalks. Take one stalk and snap off from the bottom; there will be a natural break (sometimes it’s as far as a third of the way up!), which will scare you because you have spent money on this asparagus, dadgummit! The point, however, is that the stalks can be woody (especially if it is not-so-fresh) and the woodiness creeps up from the bottom. Some people use that first stalk as a measure and use a knife to trim all the rest. I snap each one. Discard the bottoms. Dry the remaining stalks.

(I often use this as a side dish to eggs or steak, but will also just do a pan and eat it with my fingers, as Jamie and I did on Sunday. Delicious and dead simple).

Fun science notes: Now, about the asparagus and urine connection. Apparently some people detect a sulfurous odor in their pee after eating asparagus (I definitely do) and others don’t. The jury is still out on whether that is because some people don’t produce the odor or they just can’t smell the difference. According to some of my online searches, Ben Franklin found the odor disagreeable, while Marcel Proust thought it rather fragrant (so the differences of olfactory opinion between the Yanks and the Franks go waaaaay back and waaaaay deep). At any rate, the odiferous asparagus mystery raises interesting questions about human digestion and sense of smell in general and may hold the key to greater understanding of what the nose knows and why.

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4 Responses to “Snap and Go Asparagus (fast and fun)”

  1. Dianne Giacoia January 6, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    Hey Natalia, A very long time ago (Late ’80’s?) I read an article that the presence of a certain gene was required in order to smell the odor in your urine. Don’t remember the magazine I was reading but obviously I found it interesting enough to remember it. Apparently I have the gene too! Dianne

    • nataliadecuba January 10, 2011 at 3:28 am #

      Yes, Dianne, part of the studies that I found when I did my (limited) research was that it seems that the ability to smell the (ahem) fragrance was genetic…but what is unclear is whether the production of said fragrance is also genetic. The implication so far is that if you smell it, your digestive functions are A-Ok!

  2. Torkil Heggstad January 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    This is great Natalia, but the snapped bottoms don’t have to go into the trash can or compost. You could save them in a bag in the fridge or freezer and then make asparagus soup from them when you have enough bottoms. Alternatively you could boil up an asparagus stock from the bottoms immediately and rather save the stock in the fridge or freezer. The soup could be made from all bottoms or bottoms and some new asparagus, so that you have some spearheads in the soup.

    • nataliadecuba January 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      You are absolutely right, Torkil! While I intend the recipes here to address a need to get good food on the table without too much fuss, you bring up two good points in one comment.
      One is some of the other things that one can do with asparagus (soup being a great example).
      The other point is about making the most of what you purchase.
      I keep overripe bananas in the freezer for banana muffins (see earlier post) and throw vegetable scraps in a freezer bag for stock (even onion peels will work!). Something I learned from the French family I worked for as an au pair many years ago was to drink the water I cook vegetables in (like the broccoli I boiled/steamed to accompany this recipe). It is delicious and contains loads of nutrients.
      Thanks for the great contributions!

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