Now arriving: Asparagus

Asparagus is surely among my favorite vegetables. There’s something regal about those stalks, the way they stand tall and at attention. There’s something admirable about the way the shoots push their way through the soil, determined, stretching toward the light. There’s something special about it as a harbinger of spring, and precious, given its limited season and harvesting by hand. Asparagus is also a nutritional powerhouse: a great source of vitamins K, A and C, as well as folic acid. Roasted, grilled, steamed or raw, alone or in countless dishes, I love asparagus for its versatility. But mostly, my love for this member of the lily family is unwavering because of its distinctive flavor, subtly sweet and pleasantly grassy when very fresh. (Indeed, like corn and peas, asparagus continues to consume its own sugars once cut, so try to enjoy it within 24 hours of harvest.)

Of course, there is that side effect of this lovely green veggie. Is it crude even to mention it?  The strange way one’s urine smells after eating asparagus? You know what I mean. Or maybe not. Because it turns out it’s our own genetics that determine whether or not asparagus makes our pee stink, and whether or not we can smell it. So explains Harold McGee, the wonderful author who has written volumes on the chemistry and history of food. The human body metabolizes asparagusic acid, which contains sulfer and is “a close chemical relative of the essence of skunk spray called methanethiol.” Ew. Biochemists have actually studied this quite a bit and found that most but not all people produce methanethiol after eating asparagus, and most people – but not everyone – can smell it. My apologies if this is too much information, but I am apparently in the “most” group on both issues. Now you know where you stand, and why, on same.

Anyway, on to what I hope is a more appetizing consideration of this much loved vegetable. Check the “Recipes” page for Roasted Asparagus in Dijon Vinaigrette with Aged Gouda Shavings, and more seasonal recipes every week.

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