Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook
Speaking of spring harbingers…that is exactly what we need and what we find at Homestead Gardens Spring Garden Show! I attended (along with 200+ other Green enthusiasts) the Green Drinks event held Thursday evening at Homestead Gardens and we all agreed the winter had been ‘way grim’ and this was the breath of sunshine, greenery and color to sooth the soul!
There is ‘fresh off the plant’ produce to buy such as some of those incredible heirloom tomatoes grown here as well as asparagus and lots of potted herbs, vegetables and fruit. Those local cheeses are in and can be found in the case within the cafe.
Asparagus is always the star for spring, as a side dish to any main course — chicken, fish, pork, beef, or lamb — or as a salad topped with a squeeze of lemon. As a hardy perennial, it is the only common vegetable that grows wild along roadsides and railroad tracks over a large part of the US. Although establishing a good asparagus bed requires some work, your efforts will be rewarded. A well-planned bed can last from 20 to 30 years. Asparagus is one of the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring and is native to the Mediterranean-eaten by the ancient Greeks.
Later in this post, you’ll find info about growing asparagus and some tips-but first a very springlike recipe…
Grilled Asparagus Rafts with ‘Local Cheese’ Crumb Topping
Serves 6 as a side dish
Give the harbinger of spring a new design and a crunchy Polonaise topping with artisanal cow or goat cheese-irresistible. Aside from the goat cheese in the crumb topping, we also have the luxury of using ‘local’ butter from our very special cheese maker-Chapel Creamery in Easton, MD. The parallel skewers are a cool idea and make it easier to flip the asparagus. If outdoor grilling isn’t an option, asparagus can also be grilled in a well-seasoned ridged grill pan over medium high heat.
Note: The Polonaise can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator and then brought to room temperature before topping the asparagus.
- 2 pounds medium asparagus, trimmed
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 4 stainless skewers or 8 (6-inch) wooden skewers, soaked in warm water 10 minutes
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups coarse bread crumbs, (we used Panko crumbs)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
- 1/2 cup grated Talbot Reserve Cave Aged Cheddar or finely chopped Cherry Glen Monocacy Silver Goat Cheese
Preheat the grill.
Divide asparagus into 4 bunches. Align each bunch in a flat row and thread 2 skewers crosswise through each bunch (see photo, above). Brush asparagus with oil and season with kosher salt.
Grill asparagus on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over a gas grill or glowing coals until tender, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.
To Make the Polonaise (crumb topping)
Melt the butter in a small frying pan and stir in the bread crumbs, tossing until the crumbs are golden. Stir in the chopped herbs and the cheese. Sprinkle the mixture over the asparagus and serve at once.
- 1 pound of fresh asparagus equals 16 to 20 spears, 3 cups trimmed, or 2 1/2 cups of cooked asparagus.
- Do not overcook asparagus. Overcooking will deplete the flavor.
- If you need to store asparagus for more than 3 days, store them loose so that air can circulate through the spears, discouraging mold from developing.
- Limp asparagus can be refreshed by trimming off the ends of the stalks and placing it stalk side down into a glass holding 1 1/2 to 2 inches of cold water, place a plastic bag over the tops and then store in the refrigerator for approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Avoid cooking asparagus in an iron pots. Asparagus reacts to iron and can causes discoloration of the asparagus spear and the iron pot.
- Butter and/or garlic are complementary to steamed asparagus. Pour melted butter over steamed asparagus before serving or steam with garlic cloves.
About the Planting and Growing
Because asparagus can last for decades, it should be planted at the side or end of the garden, where it will not be disturbed by other garden cultivations.
When to Plant
Asparagus should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. One-year-old crowns or plants are preferred. Seeds are sown in a production bed and allowed to grow for a year. The young plants have compact buds in the center (crown), with numerous dangling, pencil-sized roots. Adventurous gardeners can start their own plants from seed. Although this adds a year to the process of establishing the bed, it does ensure fresh plants and the widest possible variety selection.
Spacing & Depth
Place the plants in a trench 12 to 18 inches wide and a full six inches deep. The crowns should be spaced 9 to 12 inches apart. Spread the roots out uniformly, with the crown bud side up, in an upright, centered position, slightly higher than the roots. Cover the crown with two inches of soil. Gradually fill the remaining portion of the trench during the first summer as the plants grow taller. Asparagus has a tendency to “rise” as the plants mature, the crowns gradually growing closer to the soil surface. Many gardeners apply an additional 1 to 2 inches of soil from between the rows in later years.
As asparagus plants grow, they produce a mat of roots that spreads horizontally rather than vertically. In the first year, the top growth is spindly. As the plants become older, the stems become larger in diameter.
After the first year, small red berries form on the female plants in late summer. These then fall to the ground, sprouting plants that essentially become choice perennial weeds in the asparagus bed.