First Spears of Spring

You know that spring really has sprung when the fruit trees start to bud, when the Cherry Tree flowers, and you can bring the first harvest of asparaguys.

The asparagus sprouted late this year, probably due to the chillier than typical weather for our region. The first batch is usually ready to go by the last week or so of April, but this year we are bringing them in towards the end of the first week of May. To be fair, a few of the stalks were past their prime, but this is pretty much always the case for us - it just grows too fast for us to catch every single one.

The patch we have is a legacy of our homestead - it was here when we moved in, left behind by my grandmother. This is a bonus and a benefit in and of itself, but when you research asparagus online, there are many words spent on just how hard it is to get a patch started, the care needed - it makes it clear just how lucky we are to have an existing, productive patch. The other benefit to Grandma’s hard work is the size - many of the spears we pull out are a half inch or larger in diameter at the base - these are not the little shoots you see in the grocery store.

We went with an "old" recipe for this first batch. We roasted them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. I say "old" here because it’s a recipe we learned - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say borrowed - from a favorite restaurant. There used to be a little Italian restaurant called Cannova’s in Rockford, set in a converted house on Riverside Blvd just to the east side of the Rock River. It was gone long before we moved away from Rockford, but while it was there it was a place we very much enjoyed. They had a delightful fettuccini alfredo, and it was there I first discovered spaghetti aglio e olio - a dish I initially ordered simply because it was fun to say (ala Moons Over My Hammy ), but found that I very much enjoyed.

They also had the asparagus dish that I’m describing here, served as an appetizer, and we ordered it virtually every time we ate or ordered out from there. Ultimately, MLW reverse-engineered the recipe (a rare and delightful talent she has), and we continue to make it to this day. And we make it just as I described above: we roast them in the oven in olive oil, with garlic, diced tomatoes, Italian bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese.

You see there are no proportions or measurements, nor cooking times. I can say that we set the oven at 400°, but sometimes we turn it up a bit. Otherwise, you put the asparaguys in the baking dish and you put the other ingredients over them in a volume that looks like enough of each item. Then you cook it until it is, you know, done. In essence, that means that the cheese has begun to brown a bit, and the asparagus is tender.

So that first batch is gone now, asparagus being the ephemeral spring treat that it is. Given its nature, though, we should have another batch in a day or two. Those will find a different fate, almost certainly. In fact, the emergence of the asparaguys makes me remember that it’s also time to clean up the grill...