Spring asparagus - We love it ! But it has a reputation for being difficult to pair with wine. In this weeks blog I'll share a few wine pairing and cooking tips to help you enjoy this delicious harbinger of spring.
Blanched asparagus is wonderful chopped up and added to salads or pureed in a soup or sauce. With only 30 calories and 6 carbs in 10 spears - it is the perfect keto diet food. To blanch just trim and wash the spears, then drop into salted boiling water until their aroma fills the air - about three minutes. Immediately transfer the hot spears into ice water to halt cooking.
Spring Snow - Poor Man's Fertilizer
As I began writing this blog a few days ago, I could see a blanket of pure white snow covering everything outside my window. It was hard to believe temperatures had hit 70 degrees a few weeks earlier. On this day it was a brisk 29 degrees and the snow had been falling off and on for over 24 hours.
In northern New England where I was born and raised, a spring snow was called Poor Man's Fertilizer. Yankee farmers knew that when the white stuff fell in April or May, it was good for their crops. Come to find out those old timers did know a thing or two, even if they didn't fully comprehend just why a late snow was important.
The reason is elementary my friends ( pun intended). Plants need nitrogen in order to bolster cell structure and develop proteins that help them thrive. This necessary element is derived from the air by snowflakes that attract nitrates as they fall to the ground. When spring arrives and the earth warms up - the snow melts and delivers nitrogen rich water to the root systems of emerging plants. An extra boost of this nutrient arrives in a spring snow - so Poor Man's Fertilizer is indeed a real thing! ( I'm hoping this fact will convince my friend Kathy that spring snow has a purpose BEYOND FRUSTRATING SKIERS! )
That leads me to the topic of my blog - Spring Asparagus. I called my neighbor Cass at Ebb and Flow Farm in Upper Jay to see if her asparagus was poking up through the ground yet. She went outside to check it out and reported back - there was one single spear rising up through the snow. I went right down to get a picture of spring fertility at its finest.
A lone asparagus spear pokes up through the spring snow at Ebb and Flow Farm. Old timers called such a snowfall "Poor Man's Fertilizer." When it melts, the nutrient rich water will deliver an extra boost of nitrogen to the roots of the plant.
I grew up on a small rural farm in Fayette, Maine during the 1960s. My folks planted a huge garden, but we never grew asparagus. Potatoes, tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn, cukes, green peppers, lettuce and peas were plentiful, but asparagus was completely foreign to me.
I first encountered it as a house plant when I was a teenager - as a matter of fact I didn't even taste asparagus until 1998, when I was visiting my Uncle Ceylon in Ormond Beach, FL. He prepared a meal that included asparagus and it looked nothing like a fern. I found it strangely delicious and I have loved it ever since. (Thanks for adding to my growing culinary experiences Uncle Ceylon.)
These days asparagus is on the menu at the Robards house from mid-April until it can no longer be found at the farmer's market or in the produce section at the grocery store. With only 30 calories and 6 carbs in 10 spears - it's perfect for a keto diet.
My friend Claudia loves it blanched and rolled up in thin sliced roast beef as an appetizer. It's also great served hot off the grill with meat, chicken or fish. It's super easy to prepare - Just trim and wash, brush with a good olive oil and place over the flame until it gets just a hint of char ( you can use a grill basket if you like ). Finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Our good friend John Sconzo is a foodie in the truest sense of the word. He recently posted this photo on Instagram. You can follow him as docsconz or check out his culinary adventures at www.rascalandthorn.com.
In days gone by I would sometimes watch Julia Child's cooking show on public television. Curiosity lead me to search the internet for old TV clips of her show The French Chef. I found a myriad of episodes online and come to find out Julia had quite a romance with asparagus. She suggested, of course, a French preparation with an orange Hollandaise sauce rather than the traditional lemon version. I am going to make both and see which one we like best.
One of my all-time favorite springtime recipes is Cream of Asparagus Soup. Through trial and error, I've been able to make a soup similar to the one I had years ago at Le Jardin des Remparts, a fabulous restaurant in Beaune, France. l will share it in the next blog - but first, let's explore asparagus and wine.
Why is asparagus so difficult to pair with wine?
The answer lies in its chemical make up. Asparagus is the only vegetable full of a substance called asparagusic acid - which is loaded with sulfur compounds. Unless it's the illusive white variety of asparagus, it is also rich in chlorophyll. These two factors - high levels of sulfur and chlorophyll - give asparagus a unique vegetal flavor that conflicts with wine, causing it to taste harsh and metallic.
Pairing wine with food is all about mouth feel and complimentary flavors. Since asparagusic acid clashes with wine, it's important to consider the other foods that are served with the vegetable. Choose a wine that will compliment the fish or meat that is being served. For instance, if seafood is on the menu then pair the meal with something white and crisp like an unoaked Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. For salmon, poultry or meats we usually go with Pinot Noir as it is a delicious food friendly red with good acidity.
Asparagus served in cream soup or cheesy risotto pairs best with a light wine that has a flavorful fruit profile and mouth watering acidity. Acidity cleanses the palate of the rich texture of butter, cheeses and creamed soups. Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay go well, as does Dr. Konstantin Frank's semi-dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes of NY. I've also paired cream soup with a slightly sweet German white wine that was all the rage in the 1970s - Blue Nun.
Terry especially likes Sauvignon Blanc wines from Sancerre, in the Loire Valley of France. These can be quite pricy, so an affordable alternative is Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlboro region of New Zealand. These wines are bursting with crisp and lively citrus, green melon, kiwi and a host of green herbaceous aromas and flavors including hay or fresh cut grass, green pepper and sometimes - a hint of asparagus.
I am partial to unoaked Chardonnay from the chalk laden hills of Chablis, in northern Burgundy. These wines are dry, crisp and light with aromas and flavors of citrus, Granny Smith apple or pear. They sometimes hint of white flowers or bitter almond and they always have a mineral undertone that comes from the limestone ground the vines grow in.
Pictured below is the beautiful meal Doc Sconzo prepared on his grill: Cod, quinoa and spring asparagus topped with a sauce made from the roasted veggie with fresh mint, dill and tarragon. Chicken stock was also used to thin the sauce and the quinoa was prepared with it as well.
John says a perfect pairing for this meal is a robust, mineral laden white wine with herbaceous qualities that will pick up on the asparagus. Sauvignon Blanc was his recommendation and we wholeheartedly agree!
Until next week when I share recipes -