Waiting for asparagus.
This springtime metaphor, (coined by Barbara Kingsolver in her locavoristic memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), holds particular charm here in Jackson Hole, where waiting for spring, and then summer, is just what we do. We are patient.
If anyone understands what it's like to wait for asparagus, it's Zaidee Fuller, who grows an impressive patch of the iconic springtime vegetable in her high altitude garden just outside of Wilson.
Zaidee in her asparagus patch.
I visited Zaidee at her extraordinary home up Mosquito Creek, with the most beautiful high-altitude gardens I have ever seen. While my vegetable garden is growing slowly, grudgingly, and without fanfare, hers is lush, tall, and green.
These asparagus have one of the best views in Jackson Hole.
Zaidee covers raised beds of greens with plastic for a nifty greenhouse effect.
Who would have thought that luscious, tall, crispy asparagus would grow so well in Jackson Hole? Zaidee has been patiently working her land for the last 30 years, despite the summers that never came, the droughts, and the several hundred neighboring gophers who terrorize the garden. A garden like hers takes patience of the utmost quality, especially when it comes to asparagus.
Asparagus farming is not for those into instant gratification. Zaidee's asparagus garden is only into its fifth year, young by most standards. It can take three years just to see the first crown that bears the tender spears of spring. The funny part, as Zaidee explained to me, is that asparagus is incredibly easy to grow here. She started by throwing some seeds in the ground, and was pleasantly surprised to see asparagus the following year. Some varieties do better than others (Zaidee favors Mary Washingtons).
Growing asparagus takes patience and optimism, qualities I find in the best high altitude gardeners around here. Waiting can seem to take forever, but just like summer, it's worth the wait. Once an asparagus plant is mature, it can send up a 7-inch shoot in a single day.
Asparagus are popping up all over at Zaidee's place.
If the asparagus crop is especially good this year, you may find some of Zaidee's for sale locally. Zaidee graciously gave me a handful of just-snapped asparagus, and I ran straight home to make it for lunch. Never have I had asparagus this fresh, this crispy, this grassy and sweet.
Like Zaidee, I usually prefer asparagus browned in a hot nonstick skillet, with just a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Maybe it was the chilliness of the morning, or the sky threatening to rain (again)...only asparagus with pasta would do.
I threw the spears into the pasta water a few minutes shy of al dente, drained it all into a colander, then tossed with freshly grated Parmesan, a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt. Nearly instant asparagus heaven.
For supper, I put a bit more effort into preparing the rest of the bunch. Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Sauce is easy to make, but does require chopping up a few bunches of scallions. Scallions, grated ginger, grapeseed oil, soy sauce, sherry vinegar and kosher salt are stirred up in a bowl, and let to sit for a spell while their flavors mingle. Then the beautiful spears of asparagus are browned in a nonstick skillet, and tossed briefly with the sauce.
The crispy spears, the ginger, the scallions.....this recipe is a winner. Chef David Chang of Momofuku calls ginger scallion sauce "one of the greatest sauces or condiments ever. Ever." He tosses a few tablespoons of the "mother sauce" with hot rice noodles or lo mein, or serves it over a bowl of rice topped with a fried egg. Ginger scallion sauce goes well with a grilled steak, or any kind of seafood. Think of the impromptu noodles bowls you can make!
Zaidee raises chickens too, both for eggs and for harvest.
Getting back to asparagus...I have one more favorite preparation. Pat the asparagus nice and dry, and then wrap the stalk with a thin slice of prosciutto. Place the spears on a tray and refrigerate while you get the grill ready (this will help the prosciutto adhere to the stalk). Grill over medium heat until the prosciutto is a bit crispy. Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus make great finger food, and they may never make it to the table if you don't hide them.
The WRONG way to wrap an asparagus...you don't want it too loose.
That's better. Lay the prosciutto flat first, then roll at an angle starting at the base. Let the tip stick out.
The best way to store asparagus is upright in the fridge, ends submerged in a few inches of water. It will keep for up to 3 days.
- To store, place asparagus upright in a glass of water, ends submerged by a few inches. Cover with a plastic bag, and keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To buy, choose spears that are firm, straight, and smooth.
- Thick or thin? Thick spears are usually more tender than thin ones. Fatter spears have more juicy flesh between the fibers that run from crown to root.
- White, green or purple? Green asparagus is what we mostly see here, but you may spy a purple or white variety at a farmers' market or at a fancy restaurant. White asparagus is milder than the green. It is buried in the soil and kept out of the sun while it grows, to keep it from making chlorophyll. Purple asparagus is sweeter and more tender than the green. It's grown in the northwest of Italy, and in California, so it's possible that you'll spy a bunch that has been trucked in.
- To prepare, snap off the woody white ends; it should break naturally where the stem starts to toughen.
For a printable version of each recipe, click on the file below it.
Ginger Scallion Asparagus
This recipe was inspired by David Chang's Momofuku Ginger Scallion Sauce, which he serves at his famous restaurant over ramen noodles, with grilled meats or fish, on just about everything. A cup of Ginger Scallion Sauce in the fridge is indeed a culinary secret weapon.
- 2 1/2 cups finely sliced scallions, green and white, from 1-2 large bunches.
- 1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, or other neutral oil
- 1/2 teaspoons of soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1 bunch fresh green asparagus
- First, make the sauce. Mix the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt. Let sit for at least 20 minutes while you prepare the asparagus.
- Clean your asparagus, and snap off the woody, white ends. Dry with a towel.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus spears and sear until you see a few brown spots.
- Stir up the sauce and add about 1/2 cup to the pan. Lower the heat to medium, and quickly saute the asparagus so that they are covered with sauce.
- When the asparagus are almost a crispy brown, and the sauce has reduced a bit and coats the stalks nicely, remove from the heat and serve.
- Extra ginger scallion sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
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- 1 bunch of asparagus
- thin slices of prosciutto, one for each asparagus
- Wash and dry the asparagus, and snap off the woody white ends.
- Wrap each stalk with one slice of prosciutto, so that it fits snuggly without covering the tip.
- Place on a tray in the refrigerator while you heat the grill.
- Grill the asparagus over medium-high heat until the prosciutto is crispy but not burnt. You could also roast the asparagus in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes.
- Serve as an appetizer, or alongside grilled meat.