04 May 2009

Spring's Reminder

Sometimes it's something as simple as a 1980s pop song you remember choreographing a dance to at a grade-school sleepover. Like listening to Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" while a friend and I made up steps and laughed the night away. The song is insignificant. The real memory is being a kid with my best friend, having fun. The song is just the connection. The mere mention of it, and I'm immediately transported to her living room, covered with sleeping bags and the cassette in the boom box.

Sometimes those triggers make you smile at the past. Others pull a sad memory from somewhere deep, like the broccoli and rice casserole my mom made when my best friend's brother died. And still others make us giddy at the thought of what's to come.

That's where asparagus lives in my mind. Just when I think that I'll never again feel the green grass under my toes while the sun warms my feet because the gray, the rain and the chilly mornings just won't give way to clear blue skies, asparagus appears at the farmers' market. Its brilliant green stalks are a beacon of summer amid pears and apples that are past their prime.

Asparagus means that the seasons are changing, and summer, my favorite season, will indeed show its sunny face again if we just hang on a few more weeks.

Now, I think that asparagus is quite beautiful just standing there in tidy bundles, upright and sitting in a shallow pool of water to keep hydrated. Some stalks thick as thumbs and others skinny as dandelions, all with bushy spears that yield to the most tender of touches.

Asparagus is also the perfect way to get re-acquainted with the bounty that is about to surface. When you get fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies, they really don't need much coaxing to make you fall in love.

Yes, you could blanch your asparagus and wrap them in prosciutto if you want to impress your neighbors. But if you just want a delicious treat, think simple. In fact, you could prepare this veggie blindfolded. Seriously, you don't need a knife. Just trim them by holding one end of a stalk in each hand and bend. Once it breaks, toss the thick end that was cut from the ground and use the remaining, tender end for eating.

Then, just toss the asparagus in some olive oil, salt and pepper. I like to use a glass baking dish for this because the nice flat bottom makes a great place to roll them in the oil. Then just apply a little heat. I like the grill, but you can also pop them in a medium-hot oven for a few minutes. Asparagus is best if it's not overcooked, but cooked just enough to bring out its natural sweetness and still maintain the slightest bite.

Serve 'em hot or room temp. Add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like. Often times, we eat ours right as we pull them off the grill.

However you enjoy them, do it quick. Summer will be here soon and asparagus season will disappear again until next spring. The good news, though, is that we'll have the sun to warm our spirits.

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