Many years ago, I bought a house with an established asparagus bed. When I moved in, the season had just ended, so I had to wait almost a year to harvest. The following spring, I examined the bed daily, almost hourly, to look for the first green spears poking up through the mulch.
During that first season, I ate asparagus two or three times a day: asparagus with poached eggs, asparagus risotto, asparagus with hollandaise. My favorite way of eating it was, and is, to dip the still slightly crispy spears into melted butter; it’s satisfying to have the butter trickle down my chin as I chew.
Some years later, when I belonged to a community garden in Washington, DC, I planted asparagus and waited the then recommended two years to harvest. I didn’t have as many plants as before, but I enjoyed this asparagus just as much.
A few years later, when I left the garden, I transplanted the asparagus to space behind the building where I lived. I wonder now if anybody finds the asparagus, recognizes it, and enjoys the treat. I fear that the gardener just mows it down when he begins the springtime cleanup.
My thoughts always turn to asparagus when spring arrives. It began appearing in Italian markets about three weeks ago. Those first bundles of green spears seemed lonely, having been shipped in from Spain or North Africa. The prices were high, and no vegetable seller wanted to invest in too much of the high-priced commodity; they had only a bundle or two on display.
Last week, the local asparagus popped up in profusion—rows of neat bundles stood at every market veggie stall in preparation for Easter. They lured me to open my wallet. I brought home a bundle, and using the process Julia Child outlined in The Way To Cook, I snapped off about an inch from the bottom of each spear. I stood the spears in tall containers with about two inches of water in the bottom and covered them loosely with plastic bags.
I’ve been feasting on all my favorites, but I also tried out a new recipe for Pappardelle agli Asparagi e Gamberi—Pappardelle with Asparagus and Shrimp. Pappardelle are extra wide noodles (about 1/2 inch) but you can substitute other pasta.
PAPPARADELLE AGLI ASPARAGI E GAMBERI
1 pound asparagus
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 pound pappardelle (or other pasta)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 pound cleaned and shelled shrimp
1 small onion, chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Clean and cook the asparagus until just tender. It should be somewhat underdone because it will cook more in the sauce.
2. Remove the tips and set aside. Cut the remaining asparagus into rounds.
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter and add the chopped onion. Cook until soft, but do not brown.
4. Add the shrimp and cook until it is no longer transparent. Add the white wine and cook to evaporate.
5. Add the asparagus rounds, reserving the tips for garnish.
6. Stir in the cream, cooking and stirring for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. In the meantime, cook the pasta. Drain, reserving a part of the pasta water.
8. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to mix, adding some of the reserved pasta water if it seems too thick.
9. Divide the pasta among four plates, garnishing with the asparagus tips.