Thursday, October 05, 2006


Asparagus was first cultivated 2000 years ago in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. The Greeks and Romans loved asparagus for its flavor, texture, and medicinal qualities. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus that they kept special boats for the purpose of fetching it and called them the "Asparagus fleet". While the Greeks never seemed to garden asparagus, the Romans had specific directions on how to cultivate asparagus by 200 BC. They would eat the asparagus in season as well as preserve it for later consumption by transporting it to high altitudes where it would stay frozen. Asparagus gained popularity in France and England in the 16th Century and was then introduced to North America. Native Americans would dry the asparagus for later medicinal uses. Asparagus has also been depicted in ancient Egyptian writings and was also grown in Syria and Spain in ancient times.

Asparagus is one of the more nutritionally valuable vegetables. It is the best vegetable provider of
folic acid. Folic acid is necessary for blood cell formation and growth, as well as liver disease prevention. Folic acid is also important for pregnant women as it aids in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the developing fetus. Asparagus is also very low in calories; each stalk contains fewer than 4. It contains no fat or cholesterol, and is very low in sodium. Asparagus is a great source of potassium and fibre. Finally, the plant is a source of rutin, a compound that strengthens the walls of capillaries.

Asparagus soup

Makes about 10 cups
4 bunches pencil asparagus (about 4 pounds)

4 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for blanching water
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 cups Chicken
Stock Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

1. Trim the asparagus, discarding tough ends. Cut the tips from one bunch of asparagus; set aside. Cut the remaining asparagus into 1 1/2-inch lengths.

2. Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the asparagus tips. Blanch for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to ice bath until cool. Drain well; set aside.

3. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the stock, and bring to a boil. Stir in the asparagus. Return to a boil, and cook, partially covered, until asparagus are tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Working in batches of no more than 2 cups, transfer to a blender, and purée. Cover lid with a kitchen towel, as hot liquid will expand when blended. As each batch is finished, pass through a medium sieve set over a clean container. Place in ice bath, and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Garnish with asparagus tips and crème fraîche, if desired.

No comments: