Asparagus, today and tomorrow


by Ari LeVaux

The forces of Mother’s Day, asparagus and economic recession have conspired, via me, to create an exciting new condiment called asparacrème.

Thanks to Mother’s Day’s placement within asparagus season, the lovely green shoots have become standard issue on many restaurants’ Mother’s Day menus.

This year, thanks to a stalled economy, more Mother’s Day menus, along with the meals they describe, are likely to be homemade, as maternal celebrations stay closer to home. In their own kitchens, loving revelers will whip up batches of homemade croissants filled with asparagus and lobster, perhaps, or poached eggs over asparagus, Florentine-style. Either would benefit significantly from a fresh hollandaise or béarnaise sauce, either incorporated or on the side.

More breakfasts in bed for American moms arguably constitutes a silver lining to the current economic reality check. Another way to surf this wave, in potentially decadent fashion, is to buy (or otherwise acquire) local foods – fruit, meat, asparagus, whatever – when they’re in season, and stash them away for culinary projects down the road.

I preserve my food with the aim of maximizing the item’s integrity, while maintaining options for its use down the road. Rarely is any particular preservation technique perfect, and sacrifices – usually involving flavor or texture – often must be balanced against each other.

Pickled asparagus, for example, sacrifices flavor for texture and major style points. If pickled correctly, the spears maintain their springtime crisp for months. They look great in glass jars, with garlic cloves and mustard seeds floating around. A single spear of pickled asparagus elevates even a mediocre Bloody Mary to the majors.

But where’s the flavor in pickled asparagus? Yes, I taste the pickling. Tastes like something pickled. Yum, I guess. But the delicate flavor is gone.

Asparacrème, on the other hand, is made from asparagus that’s been preserved in a form that, while devoid of looks and body, holds deep asparagus flavor.

Also known as asparagus mayonnaise, asparacrème is a food enhancer that’s used like mayonnaise – i.e., applied to most anything that goes into your mouth.

Such enhancers, which I call crèmes, are smooth in texture and creamy in flavor. Cheese is an obvious crème, along with other milk products like sour crème and crème cheese. Other great crèmes include the classic béarnaise and hollandaise sauces – variations of mayonnaise, but with butter instead of oil emulsifying with the eggs.

My current favorite retail crème, believe it or not, is an eggless fake mayo product called Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise. This preference is based purely on flavor.

It just goes to show that there are no unbreakable rules with crème, so long as it tastes good and whatever you scoop, dip, smear, dollop, or otherwise apply it to tastes better.

Carrot mayonnaise, one of my favorite crèmes, is simply carrots, olive oil and spices. The carrots (and/or whatever root crops you want) are dry-rubbed with salt, pepper, other spices of your choice, and oven-roasted until soft. Allow to cool. Combine with olive oil in a blender, slowly adding oil until the crème is thick and smooth. Taste and adjust spices as necessary.

Asparacrème, which is made in much the same way, isn’t really for Mother’s Day – it’s for the rest of the year, when fresh asparagus is gone. But while you’re shopping for mom’s bacon asparagus crepes with tarragon and crème fraiche, bring home some extra bunches of asparagus. Keep them in the fridge, and after the party’s over, put away some asparagus for later.

Freezing is better than pickling at preserving maximum asparagus flavor, whether for soup, soufflé, asparacrème, or any other such purpose. Simply trim the woody ends and dunk small bunches in boiling water for two to four minutes, depending on the size of the stalks. Remove from the water, cool quickly in cold water, drain and freeze.

Downsides of freezing include electricity use, freezerburn, and putting your food security at the mercy of a freezer that could break, become unplugged, or otherwise stop working.

When I gave up on pickled asparagus, I switched to pressure-canning my asparagus, as follows: Pack trimmed spears, along with a few garlic cloves, in sterile jars; pour boiling water over them, screw on lids, and process in a pressure canner at 10 pounds pressure for 30 minutes.

Unlike the rigid spears of pickled asparagus, pressure-canned spears are so tender they practically collapse in your fingers. Unlike that neon-chlorophyll shade of springtime green that careful pickling can preserve, canned asparagus could generously be described as ’70s in color, although puke-green would be closer. But like a disembodied brain in a jar, there’s a world of information lurking in that green mush.

If you froze your asparagus, it won’t be this mushy, you will have to steam it for a while to make asparacrème. When tender, let it cool.

Add your asparagus to a blender with a little olive oil and salt. With the blender going, slowly add more oil until it reaches a thick, spread-able consistency, as with carrot mayo, above. Adjust your seasonings, blend again, etc., until tasty and spread-able. Customize the flavor with the spices of your choice, like fresh garlic, a pinch of curry, a dash of mustard, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, and a big ole cannonball of crème, of course, for flavor and body.

Spread asparacrème on bread. Dip chips, veggies or pickles. Fold it into your omelet, drizzle it onto your sizzled meat. Use your finger or use a straw. It’s the fastest, greenest crème you ever saw.

So go ahead and make mom that asparagus salad with sesame balsamic vinaigrette, or perhaps some asparagus fondue. And while you’re at it, freeze, can or even pickle yourself a little stash for later.

Then, no matter what the economy does, your quality of life will rise like crème. •