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Cathy Katavich Cathy's KITCHEN Cathy received her culinary training at CIA, Culinary Institute of America, at both Greystone (Napa) and Hyde Park, NY. She man- aged Research and Development for Gilroy Foods and in the past ten years she was involved in their frozen vegetable business, heading up Business Development, Sales and Marketing. Asparagus…the Harbinger of Spring! Asparagus signifi es spring regardless of the weather! We start to see beautiful asparagus in our stores in late February, from crops grown in Mexico and California’s Imperial Valley. By April it is grown locally, and by mid-June the commercial crops are about fi nished. We have the luxury of enjoying it year-round but now is the time to enjoy asparagus at its best! Asparagus is a member of the lily family that includes onion, garlic and leeks. Because it is found wild in so many areas of the globe, some uncertainty exists about its origins, but historians think it probably came from the Eastern Mediterranean region of the world. History The ancient Greeks enjoyed wild aspara- gus, but cultivation didn’t begin until the Roman period. Julius Caesar liked to eat it with melted butter, Queen Nefertiti proclaimed asparagus to be the food of the Gods, and in the 16th Century Louis XIV of France allegedly had special greenhouses built to grow his asparagus. Colonists brought asparagus to North America in the 1700s and it became widely available. Asparagus was a favor- ite of Thomas Jefferson. He learned to enjoy it while he was Minister to France. So, of course, he planted it in his gar- den! He had a square in his Monticello garden reserved for asparagus; it was one of the few vegetables for which Jefferson documented a cultivation technique (the plants were mulched with tobacco leaves). By the 1850’s asparagus found its way to California, where about 70% of all the nation's asparagus is grown. Nutritional Information Asparagus provides Vitamin A, B2 and C, and is a good source of potassium, iron, calcium and fi ber. It contains glutathi- one, a compound scientists believe can prevent some kinds of cancers. It’s a rich source of antioxidants and folate, which can help slow aging and keep the brain healthy, and is a well-known diuretic Re- search suggests eating asparagus can ease hangovers and protect liver cells against alcohol’s toxins. Maybe that explains the asparagus stalk in a Bloody Mary! 108 Types of Asparagus Most of the asparagus we see is green, but it can be green, white or purple. Green asparagus is the most common in the United States, while the white is more popular in Europe. White as- paragus is grown under the soil where sunshine doesn’t penetrate the plant, so it does not produce the chlorophyll necessary to produce the green color. When eaten raw, white asparagus has a sweet, nutty taste. Asparagus is a perennial crop, which means that it comes back year after year. It takes several years for asparagus to produce, but a healthy asparagus plot will keep growing for 10 years or more. What to Look For Stalks should be fi rm, smooth, upright, and bright green. Pay close attention to the tips. They are the best part and most likely to spoil or break. Tips should be closed and compact. How to Store and Handle Asparagus is usually sold in bundles, secured with bands. When you get home, remove the bands and keep it loose in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few days. Asparagus needs to be trimmed since the stalk ends can be tough or GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN april/may 2019 woody. To trim thin asparagus, hold the stalk towards the bottom with thumb and forefinger of both hands. Bend gently and let it snap where the asparagus is tender. To peel or not to peel! I never knew feelings ran so strongly on this subject! It’s purely a personal prefer- ence although the French think it’s imperative. Peeling can be beneficial with thick stalks. And peeling the bottom third or so of the stalk does look beautiful when simply prepared. How To Use Asparagus is great whether hot, room temperature or chilled. It can be steamed, grilled, boiled, roasted, fried, sautéed and stir fried. Some think it’s best when simply prepared and served with butter or olive oil. The quickest and easiest way to cook asparagus is to plunge it into a large skillet with boiling salted water and simmer for 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalk. Drain, season and serve immediately. With very fresh asparagus all that’s required is a drizzle of good olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. To serve cold as a salad, immediately plunge the cooked aspara- gus into an ice-cold water bath. Lay out on paper towels to dry slightly. Don’t dress your asparagus with vinaigrette, or any acidic ingredient until you’re ready to serve since acid can quickly dull the color and flavor of asparagus.