Asparagus

Asparagus

We tell you how to use one of the typical spring vegetables in the kitchen. Precious and very widespread in world where excellences are cultivated, when brought to the table it immediately becomes the protagonist.

Spring, time for asparagus! It is not a rhetorical statement, but a fact. This precious and delicious vegetable is a true icon of the season as it is typical of the months from March to June: it is difficult to find it before and after. Let’s take advantage of it now, therefore, without hesitation. Because in addition to being good, it is also rich in beneficial properties for the body and very versatile in the kitchen. First courses of pasta, lasagna, velvety, but also appetizers and side dishes: when the curtain rises on the asparagus, it becomes the protagonist of colorful, tasty and even creative recipes. Follow us on this tour to discover asparagus!

Green, white and violet: the colors of asparagus

Asparagus is a plant that belongs to the Liliaceae family there are about 150 different species of the genus Asparagus. The cultivated one (and therefore suitable to be eaten) is called Asparagus Officinalis: the edible part is the sprout, also called the shoot, which includes stem and tip. There are three varieties of asparagus cultivated most widespread and marketed in Italy, which can be recognized in as many different shades of color: green, white and violet. The diversity of the nuance is due to the cultivation method.

Green asparagus

The color is due to an accentuated presence of chlorophyll, as this vegetable grows on the surface, out of the ground, in contact with sunlight. This type is the most widespread and is the one in which the characteristic herbaceous taste of the vegetable is most distinguished. An excellence is represented by the asparagus d’Altedo IGP, in Emilia Romagna (near Bologna). Being a Protected Geographical Indication product, these asparagus must have certain organoleptic characteristics, certified by a disciplinary.

White asparagus

the white color is given by the fact that this variety is grown underground. Remaining completely in the dark, the shoot does not absorb sunlight and therefore chlorophyll photosynthesis cannot take place. The flavor of this asparagus is thus more delicate than the green one. It is a variety that is grown and consumed mainly in Veneto, since the time of the Serenissima. Particular features of the soil and microclimate mean that practically every Venetian province, from Vicenza to Treviso, has a local type of asparagus. We can identify three particularly valuable, two IGP and one DOC: the white asparagus of Cimadolmo IGP, widespread in the Treviso area, on the left bank of the Piave, (characterized by an alluvial soil due to the flooding of the river) which has no shade of color and is completely white; the white asparagus of Badoere PGI (which is also green, always with the PGI certification), from the provinces of Treviso, Padua and Venice, has a pinkish white color and a sweet and aromatic flavor. Finally, the white asparagus of Bassano PDO, in the Vicenza area, is the only one to have the Protected Designation of Origin. According to the specification, it must be “white in color, have a length between 18 and 22 cm and a minimum central diameter of 11 mm, well-formed, straight, whole shoots with a tight apex, tender and non-woody, with a fresh appearance and smell. “.

Violet asparagus

they are asparagus with white shoots, grown with a partial spill from the soil. In this way the sun’s rays hit a good part of it, giving rise to the characteristic color. They are a very common variety in the Neapolitan area, even if the most famous with this color is undoubtedly the violet asparagus of Albenga, in Liguria, a Slow Food Presidium for being a unique type in the world. As Monica Maroglio, Slow Food director of the Presidium explains, these vegetables are called the ” vegetable of the Saints“, as their harvest takes place from March 19 (San Giuseppe) to June 24 (San Giovanni). Their main characteristic, in addition to the intense purple color, is the impossibility they have to hybridize with other varieties, as Albenga asparagus genetically has 40 chromosomes compared to 20 of all other asparagus, and has a soft and buttery flavor, very delicate.

On the market there are not only cultivated asparagus: there are also wild ones, which grow spontaneously. They generally stand out from others in that they have a thinnerelongated and green shoot. The scientific name of wild asparagus is Asparagus acutifolius, known as asparagine, which belongs to the same botanical genus as cultivated asparagus. For those who practice ” foraging “, that is the collection of the product in nature, it is essential to always pay attention to the actual identity of the sprouts that are collected and it is also necessary to always ensure the safety and cleanliness of the place where they are found. Folklore note: it is said that wild asparagus should never be sold, but given as a token of love or deep friendship.

Nutritional properties

The asparagus are vegetables that contain many substances that promote the well-being of our body. Let’s see which are the most important:1- They are rich in vitamins: in one hectogram of asparagus we find 25 mg of vitamin C, which is equivalent to about one third of the daily requirement of an adult. Carotenoids are also present in good quantities, i.e. the precursors of vitamin A, which in addition to having an antioxidant and protective action on the skin, stimulate the detoxification function of the liver, thus avoiding the onset of inflammation and infections. In addition, they contain folates, which belong to the B vitamins: in 100 gr raw there are 52 mg. This means that eating 100 grams of asparagus takes about 75% of the required daily amount of folic acid, a very important substance for the multiplication of body cells and which is also recommended for pregnant women to reduce any risk of fetal malformations.

2- They contain a lot of fibers. According to data from the Humanitas Institute, 2.1 in 100 g of asparagus are fiber. They are very important because they promote a good functioning of the intestine, thus reducing the possibility of colon cancer. Furthermore, the presence of fiber keeps cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control.

3- They are diuretics. Rich in potassium and low in sodium, they are considered allies to purify oneself, as they promote diuresis. For this reason it is recommended to avoid its consumption if you are taking drugs that perform the same function.

4- They are low in calories. The caloric intake of this vegetable is about 25 calories per 100 grams.

How to choose and store asparagus

Choosing a good product is the basis for the success of a dish: asparagus is certainly no exception. Here’s how to recognize a fresh asparagus when buying it: it must be hard, so it doesn’t bend but break. If it is too flexible it means that it is not fresh. At the same time it must not appear woody and dull in color: characteristics that also denote an old vegetable in this case. The most appreciated and delicate part, that is the tip of the shoot, must be intact and compact, without signs of opening or be damaged.The preservation of fresh vegetables is not recommended for too many days: the asparagus, in fact, once bought, the sooner it is consumed the better. In any case, keep the vegetables in the fridge until ready for use, as they tend to dry out very quickly at room temperature. If you have to keep them raw for a few days, as Dario Bressanini suggests in his Science of Vegetables, the best place is the drawer positioned at the bottom of the fridge, as it is a cold place, but which also ensures an atmosphere with the right humidity: so raw asparagus can last up to 10 days. To ensure humidity, you can also lightly wet some kitchen paper with a little water and wrap the base of the asparagus.

Even the cooked asparagus can store in the refrigerator, but they last much less: a maximum of 2 days if properly placed in a tightly sealed glass container with the cap or transparent plastic wrap. If you have cooked them in large quantities, then freeze them, following this procedure: after having dabbed them to remove excess water and let them cool to room temperature, place them on a tray lined with parchment paper, well separated from each other and placed in the freezer until freezing. At this point, transfer them to a special bag to be frozen: they can last up to two months.

Use in the kitchen: practical advice

Asparagus is a prized vegetable, widely used in the kitchen when the profitable season arrives, that is all spring, from March to June. If you like them but don’t know how to cook them, follow our advice. The initial impasse is that of cleaning which, in reality, is simpler than what one imagines.Once purchased, first of all it is a good habit to wash them thoroughly under running water, to remove any dirt residues. Place them on a cloth and dry them carefully with kitchen paper. The lower part of the asparagus is the hardest and most woody one and must always be eliminated. Once removed, the vegetable can be cooked whole or cut, depending on the preparation you want.

In the first case, using a potato peeler, peel the asparagus in the lower half, as it can be very stringy, even if it is not a mandatory operation. You can prepare them boiled, using or not the special pot, or the asparagus: it is a casserole with high sides that allows the bunch of asparagus to cook vertically, so as not to boil the tips, which are the noblest parts. , and keep them tastier and crunchy. It will take 8-10 minutes. Otherwise, steam: cooking technique that allows you to better preserve the nutritional properties of the asparagus.

If used in pieces, however, the stem is reduced to washers, while the tips can be left whole or cut in half or quarters, depending on their size. One of our recipes that fully enhances asparagus is that of risotto: a tasty and refined first course in which all the edible parts of this vegetable are enhanced.

To keep in mind: the asparagus absorbs a lot of the seasoning, so it would be better to opt for a balanced amount of the latter. Although many traditional recipes of Northern Italy, such as the classic Milanese “asparagus and eggs in cereghin “, contemplate an abundant use of butter, for the healthiest possible consumption of this vegetable the ideal choice is to use extra virgin olive oil. olive or lemon. Asparagus also lends itself to contamination with the East: therefore also sesame oil or soy sauce should be tried.

The combinations

The flavor of asparagus varies according to its type and size. We had the chef Sarah Bonsangue recommend some combinations that enhance this vegetable, playing with more creative matches than the more popular ones, such as the happy marriage with eggs (hurray for the omelette !) Or with salmon (from lasagna to ‘ salad, passing for a second in the jolly oven ).Asparagus + anchovies: sweetness and flavor come together in an excellent combination, which may not immediately come to mind, but absolutely worth trying. An idea? That of making a “fake lasagna”, alternating layers of previously boiled asparagus – as if they were the base of egg sheets – and bechamel flavored with a quality anchovy paste. It ends with a sprinkling of grated cheese and put in the oven.

Asparagus + tomatoes: it is undoubtedly a more popular combination, but one that gives great satisfaction. You can never go wrong with peeled tomatoes. An example? Our recipe for pasta with asparagus, a super delicious first course.

Asparagus + cured meats: from pancetta to guanciale, we can therefore imagine a combination reminiscent of carbonara enriched with this vegetable. Or a simple and tasty risotto like our risotto with asparagus and pancetta.

Asparagus + ricotta + bottarga: three ingredients that complement each other in flavors, for a truly appetizing taste. It can be used as a condiment for pasta, focaccia or “gourmet” pizza. Otherwise, you can think of preparing an easy recipe for an aperitif: a quality toasted bread with asparagus boiled and cut into pieces with oil, Maldon salt, a drop of balsamic vinegar, plus a good ricotta (sheep, goat, buffalo or cow), and the final bottarga. Ricotta can also be replaced with mozzarella or stracciatella.

Asparagus + onions: either with white, golden or red ones. The combination lends itself to creative preparations. For example, a reinterpretation of the  French soupe à l’oignon , where asparagus is added alongside the onion. Or as a base for a spicy chutney, with red onion, chopped asparagus, apple cider vinegar, sugar, cumin, chilli, salt and oil. Perfect in combination with cheeses such as robiola, red and white meats or salmon.

Asparagus + chocolate: with a bitter cocoa or dark chocolate, the combination is “tough”, but not prohibitive, as it is also true for other vegetables such as artichoke or aubergine. You can sauté the asparagus in a pan with cocoa (preferably the one without milk) and then enrich it with a crumble, serving it as a dessert.

History, characteristics and cultivation

Asparagus is a vegetable already known at the time of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, where it is thought we originated and then spread in the diets of Greeks, Romans and other populations of the Mediterranean up to the present day. The ‘ wild asparagus was the first to be introduced in food, followed by one cultivated, “domesticated” probably for the first time in Eastern Europe. In the Middle Ages its cultivation and its use were mainly medical, as the diuretic properties and the supply of fibers were already known to treat disorders such as irritable colon and water retention. The rediscovery of asparagus as a food arrives in 17th century France: Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, was so fond of it that he commissioned (it seems successfully) the agronomist and gardener of the Court Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, to ensure a production all year round and not just in spring.The asparagus season, in fact, is spring: In Italy, as Coldiretti points out,  the harvest begins in mid-March and lasts until June. Being a very delicate vegetable, this is done manually, with the aid of a professional tool called gouge: it is a kind of knife or chisel formed by a wooden handle and a metal rod that allows you to make a clean cut of the shoots.

It must be said that their cultivation is not simple, as first of all it requires a soil that is favorable, that is draining and, secondly, they must be picked as soon as the tip of the shoot appears, which has an overall length of about 20 cm. As reported by Coldiretti, in fact, if you wait for the latter to grow further, you get a thickening of the bark and the consequent reduction of the edibility and pleasantness of the food.

Curiosity

The affair of pee with a bad smell. A somewhat taboo subject, but very curious, is the effect that the intake of asparagus causes on the urine: many, probably, you will have noticed that after eating asparagus, the pee acquires a bad smell, very intense, almost sulphurous. Scientists, as Bressanini explains well in his book, have been studying the phenomenon for some time, even since 1891, when for the first time an attempt was made to isolate the molecule responsible for the “crime”. The excursus is really long, but we can summarize it like this: after more than a century of studies, a definitive answer has not yet been reached.. However, it has been established that it is not a universal phenomenon: in short, it does not happen to everyone. Apparently, in fact, two genetic variables have to do with one another, independent of each other: in the world, there would be subjects with genes that produce the smell, therefore called “producers” and others who do not produce it “non-producers “. As well as people defined as “perceivers”, who are able to distinguish it once it is produced and other “non-perceivers”, and therefore do not feel it. And the mystery continues …

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