I bend down, snap a spear off at the base, and pop the tip into my mouth. I know what to expect. I’ve done this before. A freshly picked juicy asparagus spear explodes in my mouth with the clean flavour of sweet sugar peas and cold, pure, spring water. Its exciting crunch is full of life. It’s the season’s first rousing flavour after a long, sleepy winter.
Most of Ontario asparagus is grown in Norfolk County, but our very own Barrie Hill Farms in Springwater has been growing asparagus since 1982 and is one of the largest farms in Ontario. You can buy locally grown asparagus at Nicholyn Farms in Phelpston and Country Produce in Orillia.
When I’m not eating asparagus raw and straight from the field, I like it lightly steamed and served with a tart vinaigrette or mild aioli set on the side for dipping. To make the presentation a bit more interesting, I wrap half a dozen spears in a white linen napkin and garnish the bundle with a sprig of fresh herbs. On other occasions, I’ll choose to band the spears with chives. I do this by soaking the chives in water, wrapping a bundle of asparagus with the wet chives, and serving the dipping sauce next to the bundle on the plate. It’s beautiful, delicious and nutritious.
Asparagus is packed full of nutrients including vitamins B6, C, A, E, and K as well as thiamin, potassium, and fiber. There are also detoxifying compounds in asparagus such as glutathione that may help protect against various types of cancer. It’s a unique flowering perennial plant that’s good for the brain, your blood sugar, and acts like a diuretic to rid the body of excess salt.
If you don’t need the entire bundle of asparagus, cook it all anyway. Leftovers mean more delicious asparagus dishes that can be made the next day such as frittata. Frittatas are a simple mixture of ingredients like cooked asparagus blended together with whipped eggs. The mixture is cooked on the stove and finished off in the oven where it puffs up nicely.
Asparagus tarts make for another quintessential spring delicacy. They’re usually thin with an egg and cheese base and whole asparagus spears displayed beautifully. If you’re sharing a patio supper with friends on a cool spring evening, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of asparagus soup. The more asparagus you use, the less cream you’ll need, and the lighter the soup will be. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche on top with a drizzle of icewine vinegar. It’s amazing!
My list of bright, light, and yummy asparagus dishes is endless, but one of spring’s greatest joys is to snap and eat asparagus right from the patch. If you’re interested, make your way to a local farm, snap off as many as you want, have them weighed, and eat them like you would red licorice in the car on your way home. It’s asparagus season! Cook it well, and enjoy it often!
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food writer, culinary nutritionist and founder of FOOD 101, offering food education classes in Niagara and Toronto. (www.FOOD101.ca)
Nicholyn Farms, Phelpston
Country Produce, Orillia
Barrie Hill Farms, Springwater