Martha Stamps' Marinated Asparagus
While a good sized bed requires quite a bit of digging, lots of manure and compost, and a good dose of patience, it's an investment that really pays off. To shorten your wait time, I recommend you start with 2 year old crowns and once they appear, practice a bit of restraint and judicious harvesting over the first couple of years. The great thing about this vegetable is that if you plant it right, you only have to do it once; asparagus is a reliable perennial that will be productive for 15 years or more if given proper care.
If you don't have the time, space or inclination to grow your own, there is plenty of fresh asparagus available in local farmer's markets from mid-April through May.
At the market, look for spears that are firm with compact heads. Those with loose heads don't keep as well and have a more fiberous texture. Also pick spears that are uniform in diameter, so that they will cook in the same amount of time.
Sadly, fresh asparagus does not keep well. Soon after harvest it begins to lose sugar content and becomes fiberous. If you cannot prepare your asparagus the day of purchase, trim the stem ends about 1/4 of an inch, wash and pat dry and then place the stalks upright in a glass of water. Cover them with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Asparagus will stay crisp this way for about 3 or 4 days.
On my recent trip to Nashville, I had the pleasure of meeting Martha Phelps Stamps. Among other things, Martha has a restaurant at Belle Meade Plantation, which is appropriately named "Martha's." She has also written several cookbooks including Fall Harvests, Spring Pleasures, and Seasonal Recipes from Belle Meade. I found this delicious recipe for marinated asparagus in her The New Southern Basics, a must have for cooks both north and south of the Mason Dixon Line.
You can order autographed copies of Martha Stamps' cookbooks by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her books are also available online through her publisher at www.hillstreetpress.com.
As Martha suggests this marinated asparagus is perfect for parties or for a picnic on a warm spring day. And I love her suggestion to "consider asparagus as a finger food. It is much more fun that way."
Bring the salted water to a boil (salt not only flavors the asparagus, it enhances the bright green color). Add the asparagus and cook for just 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and plunge the asparagus into the ice water to stop the cooking.
Mix together the remaining marinade ingredients and pour over the drained asparagus in a noncorrosive container.
Allow the asparagus to sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours, depending in how concentrated you care for the flavor to be. If you refrigerate, allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
Time to prepare: 1 hour, 10 minutes.
This recipe is vegetarian.