here is nothing quite like spring’s long-awaited arrival; primrose yellows, poppy reds, and vibrant purples sweep flowerbeds and color farmer market produce. With daylight that lingers into late evening, enjoying dinner outside— mid-golden-hour— is the perfect celebration of the season’s fresh, light, and vibrant dishes.
Sweetest in spring, asparagus is arguably the most anticipated of the season’s vegetables— and what many consider a true marker of the balmy, breezy season. Whether served with a simple drizzle of olive oil or as the star of a flavorful farro salad, this vegetable’s clean and mild flavor make it exceptionally versatile. Healthful and elegant, asparagus has reigned as royalty among vegetable enthusiasts since ancient Greek times. Cultivated for over 2,000 years and Native to Africa, Asia, and Europe, asparagus was revered as sacred and used for medicinal purposes in ancient Greece. It was later titled ‘The King of Vegetables’ by King Louis XIV. Once dubbed fit for the royal courts of Europe, asparagus continues to be famed for its fresh and divine taste.
Asparagus’s draw is undeniable during the April, May, and June months. It’s little wonder why asparagus risotto was the first actual meal I ever attempted to prepare— an ambitious jump by my pre-teen self, whom just recently mastered boiling pasta. I distinctly remember my first purposed farmers market trip; I was wooed by the array of glossy asparagus spears as I guided my hands past green, white, and purple varieties, fascinated about learning the difference between them. It turns out; the pearly white asparagus spears are grown underground and lack the exposure of sunlight needed for chlorophyll to form, which is what gives conventional asparagus their pea green hue. Asparagus with vibrant purple skin is sweeter and more tender than its green and white counterparts and gets its color from high levels of anti-inflammatory antioxidants called anthocyanins.
Regardless of color, asparagus is packed with powerful nutrients, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. While you probably guessed this green was good for you, asparagus offers a different host of wellness benefits shown to support heart health and digestive health. At only approximately 32 calories per cup, asparagus is an excellent source of copper, selenium, and vitamin A, C, E and K. This super veggie is also a particularly good source of glutathione, a compound that helps to break down harmful free radicals, and in turn is thought to slow the aging process, protect against sun damage, and certain types of cancer. Full of folate, asparagus has even been linked to improved mood and may help lift your spirits if the sweet spring air hasn’t done so already.
Nutrient dense, crisp and delightful, asparagus lives in the limelight when it comes to spring dishes for a good reason. Asparagus is delicious sautéed, steamed, stir-fried, grilled, battered, baked, or kept raw and chopped on a salad. While particularly flexible when it comes to cooking methods, make sure to choose the right sized asparagus (thin, medium, or jumbo) for your dish; pencil-thin spears won’t hold their own on a barbecue as well as the thicker, meaty variety. Thanks to my first attempt at preparing a gourmet meal— which was deemed a success by my family’s all too kind “oohs” and “ahhs”— I will always have a soft spot for a lovely and light spring asparagus risotto.
In a letter to his wife, President John Adams once wrote: “Pray, how does your asparagus perform?” (Adams, 1875).
Recipe: Test your skills in the kitchen by trying out this Shrimp Asparagus Risotto recipe from Food & Wine Magazine.
Fun fact: While well worth the wait, asparagus takes an entire three years to grow from seed to harvest.
Historical note: Emperor Augustus often used the phrase ‘velocius quam asparagi conquantur,’ which means to do something faster than you can cook asparagus.