The green, green grass of home; Sowing, growing & eating asparagus
Once you’ve established your asparagus bed, the hard part is done. During the year your plants are getting established, it’s important to maintain a good level of moisture in the soil. Hybrid varieties resist disease, so all that’s left are the usual chores—weed control and pest management. The asparagus beetle can nibble on spears and lay dark eggs along the surface. Scrape these off with your fingernail.
Asparagus will keep growing throughout the summer but at some point you need to allow some of the spears to mature into feathery ferns. These should not be removed from asparagus plants until after several killing freezes as they transfer carbohydrates and energy to the roots, a process essential to the development of spears for next year’s harvest.
There are few things that evoke spring more vividly than the fresh, grassy taste of just-picked asparagus. Once you’ve sated your appetite for them simply steamed and cloaked in butter, eat them raw, thinly sliced and dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette; or roasted, which brings out the sweetness and intensifies the flavor. Wrapping them in prosciutto first takes this to a whole new level. Asparagus pairs very well with other spring flavors, including new potatoes, morels, peas, ramps and green garlic, as well as tender herbs like tarragon, mint and chervil. It also has an affinity for all things dairy—an excellent reason to pile on the butter, cream, yogurt or cheese. A stack of asparagus sautéed in butter and topped with a quivering poached egg make a perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cook a bunch and purée it with buttermilk for a smooth soup that’s wonderful hot or chilled. Serve a platter topped with a tart relish of chopped pickled ramps and parsley. Though it might seem implausible, try dipping blanched spears in an Asian-inflected sauce made with peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, chile flakes and a pinch of sugar. And, one day, when you find yourself with a great bounty of fresh asparagus, put up some pickles. They’re delicious just out of the fridge a few days after you’ve made them, but even better pulled from the pantry shelf in the middle of winter. There’s nothing that tastes more of spring.