Asparagus

It’s nearing the end of winter here in Napa Valley, and that means spring is coming … in fact it already may have arrived in some areas of North America and Europe … and one way we know that is the abundance of asparagus in the markets. And this week’s tip is about the many ways to prepare and enjoy this oh-so-healthy vegetable.

First - choose carefully! We used to think the smaller diameter - almost pencil-sized - asparagus were preferable, but over time we’ve learned that the larger - thumb-sized - specimens are more flavorful, and very tender, especially when the bottom half of the stalk is peeled. This is particularly true if you’re lucky enough to get some white asparagus, but also beneficial for any large diameter asparagus. In choosing asparagus, the stalks should be firm: not floppy. The cut ends can be fibrous but should not be dry or cracked. And the tips should be intact and even: not bruised or soft.

When preparing asparagus, bend the bottom half of each stalk to find the natural breaking point. Snap off the bottom: usually about 2”, but each stalk will vary somewhat and will let you know where to break it. After you break off the bottom, we recommend peeling the lower stem--it’s definitely worth the effort because it makes the stalk both more tender and less bitter.

The major decision you have to make is how to cook the asparagus, and your choice of cooking technique will highlight different flavors, even from the same bunch. Wet heat, such as steaming, which brings out fresh grassy notes that can be highlighted by a variety of dressings, ranging from simple citrus zest to more complex combinations. Dry heat, such as roasting or broiling, will yield a deeper, meatier flavor; we really like Parmesan- crusted asparagus for a quick delicious dish. Alton Brown in his episode of Good Eats entitled “The Age of Asparagus” says that the combination of roasted asparagus and freshly grated nutmeg has many of the flavor characteristics of a big Chardonnay. Simple and versatile: that’s asparagus!

Wine pairing with asparagus can be tricky. Simpler preparations call for dry, unoaked Sauvignon Blancs, but richer dressings do well with lightly oaked or unoaked mature Chardonnays. Of course the main course will drive the wine choice, but considering the profile of the asparagus dish in your choice of wine will enhance your dining experience.

Enjoy!