12. Spear Season
And how to make the most of it
Overall, my favourite season for eating is fall. I love the return of all of the roasty flavours. Stews and savoury pies regain their appeal. Squash! But the time of year that I get most excited about, food-wise, is late spring, because that’s when the local asparagus arrives. A few years ago Beth and I went to Prince Edward County for her birthday. It was mostly rainy and because it was before Victoria Day, there wasn’t a lot that was open. As we were driving back to our hotel, we passed a sign with an arrow that read: Asparagus For Sale. It was out of the way, but it was worth it—ten minutes later we’d gotten five pounds for fourteen dollars. None of it went to waste.
Every year, I mean to collect all of the rubber bands from the bunches but keep forgetting to start. I think I would even shock myself. Before the pandemic, I would often stop by Fiesta Farms multiple times per week, each time buying multiple bunches. This year we’ve been ordering most of our produce online from Bondi Produce, who sell asparagus by the pound. For the last few weeks I’ve just ordered a single pound and was shocked to see how few spears a pound actually was. I’m guessing in the past my average haul was around three pounds.
So those are my asparagus credentials. I used to eat them with almost every dinner while they are in season and avoid them completely when they are not. Because they are here for such a short time and because they are not usually $2.80/lb, I like to make the most of every single spear, which means trimming as little as necessary while removing all of the woody, fibrous ends. The method for identifying the sweet spot where the ends turn from tough to delicious that gets bandied about the most is bending the spear and letting it break naturally. As Kenji Lopez-Alt showed a few years ago on Serious Eats, you can bend an asparagus and make it snap anywhere, from the very tip to the very base. 1 I learned my preferred method from watching Gordon Ramsay [ugh] on some TV show.
Remove your asparagus from the plastic bag-covered container of water they’ve been standing in in the fridge. (Notice that these ones have barely any white at the end. Lopez-Alt says to trim where the white switches over to green, but most of these have no white at all! And believe me, the ends were still woody.) Take one of your stalks and, starting at the very end, tap your knife down lightly on it. It almost certainly will not cut in very far. Listen for the sound it makes. That is the sound of a knife on woody fibres. Move a little farther up the spear and try again. Same sound and same slight cut? Move up again. Keep moving until you hear a different sound and the blade of the knife is cutting deeper. That’s the sweet spot.
I’ve been trying to describe the sound of your knife when it hits a part that is too woody. It’s almost a “clink”, as if the blade is hitting thin, taut wires. It can take a little practice recognizing the right place, but the good thing is you’re more likely to cut before you’ve found it than after, so you haven’t wasted any of your precious bounty.
After that I remove the peel from the bottom bits of the stalk, just to be sure they’re as tender as possible. There’s no end of asparagus recipes out there, but much like recipes for oysters, I don’t see the point. Just get them on my plate!
Because asparagus season coincides with the start of grilling season, at least for us, I almost always toss them over a hot fire while whatever I’ve just finished cooking rests. Flip after a few minutes. Try not to lose any between the grates. And remove after a few more minutes. I usually don’t even bother with lemon. Just salt, pepper, and olive oil (although if I’m making them inside, butter is fantastic too).
There’s still plenty of time in the season. Are you a minimalist asparagist like me or are there recipes that you think could change my mind?
What I’m Consuming…
It was a big week for salads for some reason. One night I put together a salad bar for us, complete with shredded iceberg and chickpeas. A few nights later it was an excellent beet, lentil, and cheddar salad. It was my first time using the cooked, packaged beets that seem to be everywhere now. I appreciated the convenience, but they were a little too soft for my liking. I’ll stick to roasting my own next time.
On the recommendation of a trusted friend, we tried Lebanese food from Little Sito last week. The trusted friend holds on to their trusted friend status. Really terrific food. And portions that were beyond generous. The Mezza Kit—hummous, baba ghannouj, and muhammara with a bag of pita—fed us for days. I think there’s still some in the fridge. And with each order you get a free mason jar of fantastic not-too-sweet raspberry lemonade! (The halloumi and beet salad was also excellent, as was the fattoush.)
What’s on the Menu…
I’m really looking forward to watching High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America on Netflix this weekend. It premiered a few days ago and I’ve heard nothing but great things about it.
This week marks the shift of pizza-making from indoors to outdoors. I’m very eager to see how my progress making NY-style pizza will translate into Neapolitan pies. They’re very different doughs, but I hope my NY-shaping skills will carry over.
I’m not providing a link to Serious Eats because they relaunched their website and have removed their very user-friendly, printable versions of recipes. You may be familiar with how I feel about that. The site was recently sold and shortly thereafter redesigned, eliminating this great feature, which let you choose which sections of the recipe you wanted to print. Removing something which was genuinely beneficial to people and instead forcing them to return to the site and drive up page views (presumably) seems to be a shift from a publication that truly served its readers to one that has other priorities.