Spring has officially arrived, and that brings a welcome change from heavier foods that we’ve enjoyed all winter. As much as I love beets and butternut squash, I’m ready for something different. Asparagus fills the bill. Of course, asparagus is our newest year-round crop, arriving every week, October through March, from Chile. But at mid-March and beyond, we begin to see asparagus coming from our own hemisphere, and even from within the U.S. Asparagus is a spring vegetable that I enjoy abundantly throughout its season. Once the season is over, I forego that pleasure until the following spring.
A perennial plant that can produce crops for 20 or more years, asparagus can be grown easily in Fort Collins. Because it takes a few years to become well-established, it’s best to wait until the third year before serious harvesting, although one cutting can take place during year two. If you make room for an asparagus bed in your landscape, you’ll be rewarded with the best tasting asparagus you can imagine for 6-8 weeks each spring for years to come. Crowns and growing instructions are available in local nurseries. Buying plants locally assures us of varieties and timing suitable to our growing zone, plus a live person to answer our questions.
Asparagus is a vegetable that is easily adaptable to many flavors and a variety of uses. Add asparagus in one inch lengths to stir-fry with snow peas and spring onions, seasoned with a splash of tamari and a teaspoon of dark sesame oil. Or serve steamed asparagus lightly drizzled with walnut oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper, and toasted walnuts. For an early spring soup, combine asparagus with leeks: sauté chopped leeks, chopped green onion, and minced garlic in 1 tbsp. butter with salt and pepper. Stir in diced potatoes and 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are almost tender, add chopped asparagus and 1/3 cup cream and cook until asparagus is done, but still bright green, and serve at once with fresh thyme and grated Gruyere cheese. I love marinated and grilled asparagus, Portabella mushrooms, and spring onions. Just marinate in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and stems of fresh thyme or rosemary, then grill over medium heat until tender. Enjoy asparagus often in omelets, salads, in soup, or just steamed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Asparagus and Cheese Tortillas
4 corn tortillas
16-20 stalks of asparagus
4 slices of Muenster cheese
salt and pepper
Snap the ends off the asparagus and discard. Drizzle asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on grill over medium heat. Meanwhile, brush tortillas with olive oil, both sides, and lay on the grill. Place equal number of grilled spears on each tortilla, layer in a slice of cheese, fold in half over the asparagus, and grill until the tortilla is crispy and cheese is melted. Serve immediately, with a little chipotle adobo sauce stirred into sour cream.