Spring cheer for fresh spears

Plump, fresh asparagus is one of the first signs of spring. 

Words Alessandra Zecchini and Natalie Cyra

In many parts of the world asparagus is still perceived as a luxury, too expensive to be considered a mere vegetable, and too precious to be eaten indiscriminately. But when spring comes to New Zealand there is such a bounty, and prices are so affordable, that for six weeks at a stretch at least three of my weekly meals are based on asparagus.

Asparagus is said to have originated in Mesopotamia, possibly in the Garden of Eden itself. After all, how could such a beautiful place be without asparagus? From Mesopotamia, asparagus would have spread to Egypt and the Mediterranean basin, first used as a medicine, and then in the kitchen.

For many centuries the consumption of this precious vegetable was limited to kings, nobles and clergy as a real gourmand spring delicacy—especially white asparagus, which is harvested before sprouting above ground level. The upper classes don’t appear to have minded asparagus being a diuretic, with effects that may be smelled afterwards. This is the work of metabolic byproducts of amino acid asparagine. I don’t think this has ever stopped anyone from eating them!

Nutritionally speaking, asparagus is also very good for you: it is one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin E, and is also rich in B-carotene, folate and potassium. It is very versatile in the kitchen, and can be steamed, boiled (not too long please), fried, grilled and added to sauces, risotto, salads, sushi rolls or even eaten raw, very thinly sliced.

For Shapeshifter’s recipe, click here.

5 ways with asparagus

  • Add it to a pasta dish. If you’re still loving a bit of comfort food in the way of some hearty pasta, here’s a twist with some summer flavours tied in. We’re loving the Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) recipe Kiwi music legends Shapeshifter came up with to share with their fans. To see it, click here
  • Wrap it with prosciutto or bacon. Asparagus is perfect for entertaining guests during the festive season. You can present the spears wrapped in prosciutto or bacon as a canapé or serve as a side dish with your Christmas dinner. See the recipe here.
  • Enjoy it in a cocktail. You read right! Last year Café Hanoi celebrating our short-lived love affair with the delicate spears by creating a seasonal asparagus tipple – the Scent of Spring. See the recipe here.
  • Add it to your quinoa dishes. Asparagus pairs well with quinoa or wild rice for a gluten-free salad option. You can prepare the ingredients the day before and toss just before serving. It tastes just as good the day after too. See our Spring Asparagus Salad recipe here.
  • Celebrate all the best summer produce at once. See our delicious Summer Strawberry Salad here which also celebrates avocado and asparagus – it’s a winner on every occasion.  
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