Asparagus is harvested for a six- to seven-week period from late April or early May through mid- to late June. It grows best in sandy, well-drained soil. Thanks to Long Island and New Jersey we have a plentiful supply in NYC.
Historically, asparagus has been used as a vegetable and medicine, with its delicate flavor and diuretic properties. The ancient Greek mentione asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century A.D. Asparagus is also supposed to have aphrodisiacal power and counteracts fatigue. I bet that also has to do with the uplifting spring season.
A Fine Vegetable
The finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips, which my Parisian chef colleagues referred to as delectable points d'amour ("love tips”). I grew up in Austria, not too far from many German cities that hold annual Spargelfest (asparagus festivals) this time of the year. There, the majority of asparagus is the white kind. They celebrate the harvest of asparagus like we do here in the U.S. with pumpkin festivals in the fall. The Bavarian town of Schwetzingen claims to be the "Asparagus Capital of the World,” and during its festival an asparagus queen is crowned. Further, there is a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region. Eating asparagus with lots of regional beer and local Riesling resembles an Oktoberfest-like atmosphere – it’s tons of fun!
Couscous & Asparagus Salad with Avocado, and Lemon
(recipe yields 4 entree-sized portions)
1 bunch/1 pound thin asparagus, a.k.a. pencil asparagus
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
8 grindings black pepper from the mill
8 oz whole wheat pearl couscous
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dried cherries soaked in warm water for 5 minutes
1) With a knife, cut off about 2 inches of the tough bottom of the asparagus. Cut asparagus into 1/8" pieces on a diagonal, and toss with lemon juice and pepper.
2) In a gallon-sized pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and turmeric. Add couscous to the boiling water and cook for 11-15 minutes covered with a lid. Couscous should be soft at this point—if not, cook for 2 minutes longer.
Drain couscous through a colander and rinse with cold water under the faucet for 15 seconds. At this point, the couscous should still be warm.
3) Combine couscous with the marinated asparagus and add olive oil and cherries. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
4) Halve the avocados, remove the pits and cut into quarter wedges. Remove avocado peel and throw out, then cut wedges into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss avocado gently into the asparagus/couscous mixture.
Chef's Tip: For a variation of the above recipe, cut one red onion into 1/2-inch thick circles, then toss with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. Cook on a char grill for 4 minutes and toss into the couscous/asparagus mixture. Top salad with shaved Parmesan. You can do the same with ramps instead of the red onion.