Asparagus has come to the farmers’ market! From the fertile soils of the San Joaquin Delta region to the irrigated Southern California desert, California leads the nation in asparagus production with more than 50,000 metric tons harvested annually. Most of this is marketed as fresh green asparagus. The asparagus at the Concord Farmers’ Market comes to you directly from our local farmers in the Sacramento Delta region, the Brentwood area to be exact.
Asparagus was first planted in California during the 1850’s. The moderate climate, together with a variety of fertile soil, contributes to the outstanding quality of asparagus grown in California. Asparagus is packed with nutrients and easy to make ahead for a crowd. One serving of asparagus is low in calories and sodium. It is a fairly significant source of vitamin C, thiamin, and potassium, and many micronutrients.
When selecting asparagus look for bright green stalks with closed, compact, firm tips. If the tips are slightly wilted, freshen them up by soaking them in cold water. The fat spears are just as tender as the thin ones. Tenderness relates to color—the greener the better (for white asparagus, the whiter the better.) Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it. Make sure you use your asparagus within 3 to 4 days, a week at the most. To freeze, trim off woody ends and freeze whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes. Cool, place in freezer bag, and store in freezer. Do not defrost before cooking. Do not refreeze. Make sure you use asparagus within 8 months.
Preparing asparagus is easy. To boiling, place whole trimmed asparagus in a large skillet with 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches of water. Boil and start timing; reduce heat and briskly simmer, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes.
To steam, place asparagus on a steamer rack in a large saucepot over rapidly boiling water (water should come up to the rack but not over it). Cover saucepot and start timing. Steam for 4 to 5 minutes. To microwave: Arrange asparagus in a glass baking dish, with tips overlapping in center. Cover dish with plastic wrap, turning back one corner to vent steam. Microwave at high (100%) power for 2 to 3 minutes. Let stand 3 minutes.
There are many ways to serve fresh California asparagus. Try it with just a squeeze of lemon juice. Chives, parsley, chervil, savory, tarragon or other spices melted into butter are delicious when drizzled over asparagus. Sour cream, yogurt, and mayonnaise are easy toppings. Medium dry white wines are best with asparagus. Look for Chenin Blanc, Fumé Blanc or French Colombard. Toss with olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese and sauté lightly.
For purée, soups or salads, break or cut asparagus spears at the tender part and use the trimmed ends that you might otherwise discard. Place them in a covered saucepan and boil until tender. Strain through a sieve or food mill forcing some of the pulp through, or process in a food processor or blender.
California asparagus season only lasts from March til June, so stop by the Concord Farmers’ Market and pick up several bunches to add to a quiche for an elegant brunch, sauté with mushrooms and onions for an easy side dish, or steam till they are a gorgeous bright green and just barely al dente and wrap with prosciutto. Perfectly fresh and perfectly delicious from your local farmers to you!