Asparagus, Harbinger of Spring
It’s almost time for the time change. When I think of Daylight Savings Time, I always hear the Husker Du song “Celebrated Summer”– Bob Mould singing, “Somewhere in April time, they add another hour...” But that song came out in 1984. Now, the extra hour comes earlier, thanks to George W. Bush making federal policy changes. Does that mean that asparagus season comes earlier too?
Regardless of the limits of federal political power (or nostalgic memories of ‘80s post-punk indie pop), asparagus season is in fact nearly upon us. April, May, and June are the prime times in Oregon for the long slender stalks with their tufted tops. And seeing asparagus at the local markets is tantamount to spotting the first crocus in February: it’s a sign that yes, Virginia, spring will come.
Asparagus is also one of those vegetables that is utterly perfect prepared in the simplest of ways (steam it, top with a dab of butter, salt and pepper) yet is also endlessly versatile. Here's a more elaborate yet still easy to prepare dish of asparagus with pine nuts, pancetta and citrus. It's from KayKay at Food 52, the online community recipe sharing site run by food writers Amanda Hesser (New York Times) and Merrill Stubbs.
4 ounces pancetta, cut into 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch dice
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed and sliced into 2 inch pieces on the bias
1 1/4 cup leek, thinly sliced crosswise (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1-2 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large non-stick pan, sauté pancetta, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until crisp and lightly golden.
Add 1 tablespoon of butter to pan. Add asparagus pieces and leek and sauté until asparagus is tender crisp, about 3-4 minutes.
Add garlic, lemon and orange zest, toasted pine nuts and parsley and sauté for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and salt and serve immediately.