Fighting memories of winter with spears of asparagus

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | These asparagus spears are ready to deploy.
These asparagus spears are ready to deploy.

We may not all agree on 4-posters or irrigation systems or where to get the best scones, but here on Shelter Island there is consensus on the subject of the weather from January until a few weeks ago.


If you were in any doubt about how that weather has affected local agriculture, check out what is on offer at the farmstands — mainly asparagus, rhubarb and greenhouse veggies at a time of year when we are used to fields full of peas, beans, radishes and berries.

Sang Lee Farms in Peconic (25180 Sound Avenue) has great-looking asparagus and plenty of their signature Asian veggies, sugar snaps and greenhouse cucumbers. Dale reports that they should have strawberries by the middle of June. KK The Farm (59945 Main Road, Southold and the Shelter Island Farmers Market on Saturdays) also has asparagus, as well as strawberries, lettuce and greenhouse tomatoes.

Fortunately, while we wait for the rest of the vegetable world to grow up, the asparagus is plentiful and glorious. And if anyone in your household asks, tell them that grassy-scented pee is nature’s way of letting you know that the asparagus is working.

Eat asparagus within a day or two of buying it. Don’t buy spears with any ridges, puckering or shrinkage.

The bottoms should not show any fibers or dryness. Some folks trim and even peel asparagus, but for green or purple American asparagus (as opposed to white varieties) it’s not necessary. Snap off the bottoms. The fatter stalks are just as tender as the thin ones and are juicier and less fibrous. Save the snapped-off bottoms to add an herbal note to your next batch of stock.

So that no one gets bored eating all that asparagus, here are several ways to cook it. The traditional protocol for cooking asparagus is to use a tall pot (often a coffee percolator, back in the day). The lower part of the stems sits in the boiling water as the tips cook in the steam above.

Asparagus also grills beautifully, once you’ve solved the problem of how to turn 40 spears of asparagus using barbecue tongs. See my recipe for this marvel of culinary engineering.

My favorite method is also the easiest: In a microwave, with no water added, and finished with a syrupy balsamic reduction, such as the fig and elderberry balsamic “Blaak Drizzle” available at Table of Content (North Ferry Road).