There are two moments each year that the sun is directly above the equator. As the Earth takes it fanciful voyage around the sun, twice a year it tips ever so perfectly and when it does both the Northern and Southern hemispheres of the world share its sunlight, and nightlight equally. These moments are called the equinox. The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), and as such, the entire world will have nearly equal daylight and night on these days. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere that day is March 20th. Living in the warm Southern hemisphere and you will be dancing in the moonlight on March 21st. It occurs again in September on the 22nd and 23rd. This time of year is the Vernal Equinox, signally Spring, and with it the hopes and desires for new beginnings. It is the return of fresh vegetable grown above the ground and fruits from sun soaked vines and shrubs. I can now put my slow cooker on hiatus, close my root cellar (if I had one), and open up my screen door… spring has arrived.
My home menu makes way for spring peas and sweet onions, baby artichokes with shaved parmesan, young spinach tossed with fresh glazed oranges, and the veteran of opening day – asparagus. Nothing signals spring more than these crisp elegant spears. Couple them with their best friend the sugar tomato, and these new kids on the block give a much-needed playful and perky boost to our dinnertime tables.
Although available all year-round, spring is the best season for fresh asparagus. Tolerant asparagus farmers sow and cultivate this majestic lance for three years before harvesting the first vernal stalk.
Unlike other stocks, oh sorry, I mean stalks, these are high in value and low in price while in season – that’s a recipe for success in any market. And don’t throw those stalk ends away. Give them a slap with the back of your knife, toss them in a pot with a little chicken stock and spring onions and simmer for an hour. Remove the stalks, chill, skim the fat from the top, add a bit of chopped Italian parsley and viola – you have soup! Serve it as a light consommé with a toasted brioche and a glass of crisp French Chablis. The perfect patio lunch on a warm spring afternoon.
Most American asparagus are the green variety, ranging from colossal to pencil-thin. The white asparagus preferred in Europe is a little milder and more delicate than their green cousin. The violet or purple type popular in Italy is the prom queen of the group; it’s sweeter and more tender than the green guys, and quite lovely on the plate. And the next time you’re in the South of France, between laying on the beach in your skivvies and sipping wine at an outdoor café, try slipping on a pair of rubber boots and head to the woods. That’s about the only place you will find the elusive wild asparagus that hides among the briars and prickly stems. I think I would rather enjoy the beach and café and head home at the end of the day with my market purchase of little green twigs.
Spring Asparagus and Parsley Tomatoes
15 Asparagus spears
2 tablespoons fine chopped shallots
1/4 cup chopped chives
1/4 cup fine chopped Italian parsley (about 1 handful)
1/4 cup juice of lemon
1 – 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
pinch of course salt
1 cup grape tomatoes (about 1/2 pint)
- Blanch asparagus in boiling water for about 3 minutes or until deep green. Plunge in ice water until completely cool. Pat dry and set aside.
- Toss shallot, chives, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and tomatoes together.
- Place asparagus on plate side by side. Place the shallot, chive, and tomato mixture along the middle of the spears. Finish with a few grinds of cracked pepper and serve.