Call it delta grass or ass-per-gas, spring in California means its time for plump and pointy asparagus. Easy to grow, simple to prepare, some even say it has magical powers for healing and aphrodisia. A member of the lily family, once the crown are planted they will produce for 15 or more years. If you plant, be careful. After asparagus gets going, it really produces.
My family’s first asparagus planting was in a 10-foot-long trench dug by my brothers and softened up with the old Rototiller. I followed behind them on my knees, tossing out rocks and clods. After a few passes up and down, the trench was filled with manure and peat.
Although it took about three years before we had enough spears to grace a meal, after that we had it about every day from St. Patty’s to the beginning of summer. It just doesn’t stop. The spears poke out and can grow as much as 10 inches from one day to the next. The rest of the year the ferny foliage provided a delicate hedge for other vegetables growing behind.
Californians, however, aren’t the first to grow and enjoy asparagus. It was prized long before the 49ers showed up. The ancient Greeks enjoyed it more than 2,500 years ago. A natural diuretic, it was considered to be a cleansing herb. The Victorians considered asparagus too phallic to be served to young girls and married women were advised to check for the scent of this tasty vegetable on their husband’s breath. One whiff, and a she’d know what he’d been up to.
California leads the nation in asparagus production with more than 50,000 tons harvested annually, so don’t go sniffin’ around. The fertile Delta region and the irrigated San Joaquin Valley provide the best growing conditions for asparagus. But, the California Asparagus Commission has lots of suggestions for putting a hint of asparagus on the lips and in the heart.
Asparagus Spears and Seared Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint Vinaigrette fuse the flavors of these two spring favorites into one delicious main course dish. Here’s a recipe from the California Asparagus Commission:
Warm Salad of Asparagus Spears and
Seared Lamb Chops with Fresh Mint Vinaigrette
4 1 to 1-1/4 inch thick lamb loin chops
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup vegetable stock
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 lbs. asparagus, ends discarded
1/4 cup red onion, sliced
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons kalamata olives, pitted
Makes 4 servings
Season the chops with salt, pepper, garlic and oregano. Heat a heavy skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Sear each side of the chops for 3-4 minutes for medium rare. Remove chops from pan. Set aside. Cover loosely to keep warm. Pour off any fat left in skillet while keeping lamb juices in the pan. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits from the pan. Boil until the liquid reduces to 1-2 tablespoons. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar. Whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add chopped mint. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cut asparagus into 3 inch spears. Steam until tender. Arrange warm asparagus and lamb on serving plate. Pour warm vinaigrette all over. Top with feta, onions and olives. Serve immediately.
Nutrients per serving:
Calories 314, fat 22 gms, calories from fat 194, saturated fat 9 gms, cholesterol 62 gms, sodium 300 mg, dietary fiber 8 gms, protein 25 gms
Recipes and photo courtesy of the California Asparagus Commission. For more information, recipes, fact sheet and tips, visit: thtp://www.calasparagus.com.
©California Asparagus Commission
And, don’t miss the 25th Annual Stockton Asparagus Festival April 23-25, for more information visit, http://www.asparagusfest.com.