How appropriate that the first major crop to appear at spring farmers’ market comes from a Greek word meaning sprout. The appearance of asparagus has signaled the start of the growing season since ancient times. The simplicity of its preparation can also provide a guidepost for us sidewalk foragers as we gather items for solo meals through the coming harvests.
This may be the first time of the season, but it assuredly won’t be the last, when your taste buds will wonder how you ever accepted store bought produce trucked in from more than 1,000 miles away to be the acceptable way to nourish ourselves. As our palette becomes pleased with ultra-fresh items likely picked on the day of purchase, our physical and mental health improve as we nourish ourselves with these deliberate choices.
Like most farmers’ market vegetables and fruits, asparagus can be enjoyed with minimal preparation. One step and it is ready. Make a quinoa salad with asparagus, mushrooms and spring onions to take for your “at work” lunch. Have it in scrambled eggs next, then in pasta topped with fresh grated parmesan, then with a big green salad. All from the roasted asparagus you prepped.
Asparagus appears in a season still cool enough that is not objectionable to turn on the oven for a brief time. Oven roasting asparagus and adding some farmers’ market mushrooms turns them into savory bites. White button mushrooms, shiitake, or cremini (baby portabellas mushrooms) would work great. Rinse well but never soak mushrooms in water. Quarter the mushrooms, if larger than bite size.
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse asparagus. Trim a bit of stem, if needed. If the stems are an even green, no need to trim, but they begin to turn white or light brown towards the bottom, trim slightly. Place spears and mushroom pieces in a mixing bowl. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and toss gently. Lightly drizzle with coarse sea salt (table salt is fine if you haven’t purchased coarse salt yet, a topic we’ll talk about soon!).
Arrange on a baking sheet, with sides, or baking pan (a 9” x 13” works well) so vegetables are in a single layer. Put in warm oven. Set timer for 7 minutes and test for doneness. Depending on the width of the asparagus, it may take a bit longer. However, as with most items, remove when they are “al dente,” Italian for “to the tooth.” Any item put in an oven that hot will cook a bit longer on that hot pan as it cools so remove a bit early.
And, keep in mind whenever cooking items that can essentially be eaten raw, that it is preferable to undercook than overcook. Yes, the thinnest asparagus can be enjoyed raw. Try a pencil thin piece. Try all your ingredients raw and by themselves as you learn how they combine with other flavors. Mother Nature will teach that crops that come out of the ground at the same time pair well together.