Posts Tagged ‘asparagus’

Asparagus Hummus

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

My mother loved to tell a story about her introduction to olives.

Her mother brought a jar of the things home from the grocery store. Little Janice asked what they were.

“Olives,” said her mother. “Try one and see whether you like it.”

Janice tried one. She wasn’t sure. So she tried another. She still wasn’t sure. She kept trying. After a few minutes she still wasn’t officially sure that she liked olives. But she had eaten the whole jar.

That’s more or less the way I felt about this hummus. As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, I LOVE asparagus. If it were in season year round, I believe I would eat it every day. Now that it is in season I work on new ways to try it every day.

The other day I looked at some hummus and looked at some asparagus spears and thought, “Let’s put these together.”

I tasted the resulting concoction. I wasn’t sure what I thought. It was a lovely green. (It would have been even prettier if I had saved some pieces of asparagus to decorate the top!) It didn’t taste quite as asparagus-y as I had expected, however.

So I sampled it again. Like my mother before me, I was soon very full and out of my test food.

In the end I decided I’d publish the recipe. If you want more asparagus flavor, add more asparagus, or cut back on the tahini and water.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably eat the whole thing as it is….

Green Hummus

Ingredients:

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into small pieces (about 2 cups)
2 large cloves garlic
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup sesame tahini
2 tablespoons water
lemon juice to taste (I used about 1-1/2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more oil as needed
1 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Boil the asparagus pieces until just barely soft. Drain and rinse with cool water and/or ice. Set aside.

In a food processor puree the chickpeas and tahini briefly; then add the asparagus, water, and lemon juice and puree again.

Add the oil and salt and puree briefly. Taste to adjust seasonings; then refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour. Stir in a dab of additional oil just before serving.

Serve with pita chips. Makes about 2 cups.

Sparrow Grass

Friday, May 15th, 2009

cutgrassweb

When I’m asked one of those silly hypothetical food questions—“What one food would you want to eat on a desert island?” or “What would you choose to eat for your last meal on death row?’’—I never have trouble making a decision. I’m an asparagus girl to the end.

Of course, asparagus is a cool-climate vegetable so it’s unlikely to grow on a desert island. And a prison chef would probably cook it until it was soggy. Nevertheless, I could eat even poorly cooked asparagus every day and be reasonably happy.

This time of year my favorite green vegetable is everywhere in the Pioneer Valley. As David Nussbaum recalled in Saveur magazine a few years ago, the Connecticut River Valley was the world’s asparagus capital between the 1930s and the 1970s.

Hadley Grass, as it was called, was shipped throughout the northeast and occasionally even overseas, where it was purportedly enjoyed by the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace.

When a blight hit the crop in the mid-1970s, Nussbaum wrote, asparagus in the area was hard hit. It took a while to find a blight-resistant strain, and many farmers moved on. Today it is mainly we locals who enjoy what remains of this formerly dominant crop.

Many western Massachusetts asparagus fans still use the term Hadley Grass, adapted from a popular nickname for the vegetable in the 1700s and 1800s, “sparrow grass.” Lexicographer John Walker wrote in 1791, “Sparrow-grass is so general that asparagus has an air of stiffness and pedantry.”

I was seven when I first tasted freshly picked asparagus. My family was visiting one of my father’s graduate-school professors in Wisconsin. Like many Midwesterners the professor and his wife had a huge garden.

When I took my first bite of fresh-from-the-garden asparagus I was amazed at the flavor and texture. It tasted more like butter than any vegetable should. I kept eating—and eating—and eating.

I haven’t consumed that much asparagus at one sitting since then, but I still remember that visit with pleasure. And I celebrate asparagus season every year. One of my yearly ambitions (one spring I’ll fulfill it!) is to taste a unique asparagus treat served about an hour away from me.

A fabulous dairy in Hadley, Massachusetts, Flayvors of Cook Farm, makes asparagus ice cream at this time of year. I haven’t tried it myself, but every other flavor I’ve tried there has been freshly made and imaginatively conceived.

Every summer when we take my nephew Michael on his annual pilgrimage to the Eric Carle Museum we end up indulging ourselves at Cook Farm on the way home.

Just to get you going on your own asparagus journey I’ll be posting a few sparrow grass recipes, starting with this easy roasted grass formula. Don’t feel that you have to use any of them, however. Nothing beats this vegetable simply steamed or boiled, topped with a little butter and/or lemon juice.

Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 pound asparagus, washed and trimmed
a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 handful feta cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In an ovenproof dish, toss together the asparagus, oil, salt, and pepper. Lay the oiled asparagus in the dish in a single layer.

Bake the asparagus for 6 to 10 minutes (depending on its thickness; I had fairly thick asparagus so I used the full 10 minutes), turning once.

If you want to use the feta, lay it on top of the asparagus after turning. It won’t melt, but it will become warm and soft.

Remove the roasted asparagus from the oven, and garnish it with chives if desired. Serves 3 to 4.

Mother Jan is happy that Sparrow Grass season is here!

Mother Jan is happy that Sparrow Grass season is here!