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The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
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is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 04.21.04
Montreal

GREG DUNCAN

Asparagus: good Spring eating

Now that Spring has arrived, you'll notice that local groceries are displaying bright green spears of asparagus. Nicely washed and tightly wrapped bundles glisten and tempt you like beautiful flower arrangements.

Asparagus remains you of those vegetables that people either love or hate. Ironically, I know of home chefs who will prepare some just for an added visual appeal at dinner parties. After all, this vegetable looks great on a plate and as they say it 'looks good enough to eat.'

Here is a sampling of what others have had to say about this green wonder.

"With fresh asparagus, the higher your income the higher up the stalk you cut off the tip."
- Bill Rather

"This vegetable is suitable only for the rich, since it lacks substance and has mild aphrodisiac qualities. It is a delicate food."
- La Régnière, 17th century

"Asparagus . . . seems to inspire gentle thought."
- Charles Lamb (1775-1834), English essayist

Here's an interesting bit of history:

Tradition holds that asparagus, a springtime vegetable, disappears in the fires of St. John the Baptist's Day (June 24), in the first heat of summer. Asparagus has inspired and attracted the attention of many, from France's François I to the Sun King, who demanded it even in winter. Because of its phallic shape and sensual appeal, nuns who feared it would excite the senses and imaginations of young ladies banned asparagus from girls' schools in the 19th century.

These days, the notion that asparagus is better suited to those with higher incomes doesn't hold water, so to speak. While it is true that it can be one of the most expensive of vegetables, depending on the season, there is abundance currently at just over two dollars a pound. Local offerings currently seem to be of the very thin and long variety but are shoot-tender.

Grab some green while the green is good, I say, and go nutty with this recipe.

Asparagus with orange dressing & toasted hazelnuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped hazelnuts
1 1/2 to 2 pounds asparagus stalks, washed and trimmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toast hazelnuts in a small shallow baking pan until golden, four to five minutes.

Cook asparagus in a large frying pan of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about three to four minutes, and drain well in a colander. Transfer hot asparagus to serving platter or individual serving plates.

In a small bowl, whisk together orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Spoon orange dressing over top or asparagus and sprinkle with nuts.

Makes four servings.

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