I bend down, snap a spear off at the base, and pop the tip into my mouth. I know what to expect. I’ve done this before. A freshly picked, juicy, asparagus spear explodes in my mouth with the clean flavour of sweet sugar peas and cold, pure, spring water. Its exciting crunch is full of life, as it’s the season’s first rousing flavour after a long, sleepy winter.
Most of Ontario asparagus is grown around the neighbouring town of Simcoe, in Norfolk County, with some asparagus patches spilling towards Hamilton. In fact, Norfolk is home to about 80 asparagus growers and more than three-quarters of Ontario’s 2,700 acres of asparagus, making the area Canada’s top producer. The best part of asparagus season is that you can find it almost everywhere, especially local farmer’s markets. Local food rocks!
When I’m not eating asparagus raw and straight from the field, I like it lightly steamed and served with a tart vinaigrette or mild aioli set on the side for dipping. To make the presentation a bit more interesting, I wrap half a dozen spears in a white linen napkin and garnish the bundle with a sprig of fresh herbs. On other occasions, I’ll choose to band the spears with chives. I do so by soaking the chives in water, wrapping a bundle of asparagus with the wet chives, and serving the dipping sauce next to the bundle on the plate. It’s beautiful, delicious and nutritious.
According to the Ontario Asparagus Board, Ontario asparagus has the highest level of naturally occurring Rutin (an effective anti-oxidant), putting Ontario asparagus in league with other functional foods such as blueberries and tomatoes.
If you don’t need the entire bundle of asparagus, cook it all anyway; leftovers mean more delicious asparagus dishes, such as frittata, can be made the next day. Frittatas are a simple mixture of your favourite ingredients, like cooked asparagus, blended together with whipped eggs. The mixture is cooked on the stove and finished off in the oven where it puffs up nicely.
Asparagus tarts make for another quintessential spring delicacy. They’re usually thin with an egg and cheese base and whole asparagus spears displayed beautifully. If you’re sharing a patio supper with friends on a cool spring evening, there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of asparagus soup. The more asparagus you use, the less cream you’ll need, and
the lighter the soup will be. Swirl a dollop of crème fraiche on top with a drizzle of icewine vinegar. It’s amazing!
My list of bright, light, and yummy asparagus dishes is endless; however, one of spring’s greatest joys is to snap and eat asparagus right from the patch. If you’re interested, make your way to a local farm, snap off as many as you want, have them weighed, and eat them like you would red licorice in the car on your way home. It’s asparagus season, cook it well and enjoy it often!
by Lynn Ogryzlo
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.ca
Hamilton Mountain Farmers’ Market
Dunnville Farmers’ Market
Locke Street Farmers’ Market
Ottawa Street Farmers Market