I've been enjoying asparagus from the local Stop & Shop for several weeks now. And then I drove by a sign Wednesday that made me do a u-turn.
Cole's Farm & Greenhouse on Horsepond Road had their "Asparagus" sign out. Dan Cole tells me that they don't generally advertise their availability. He only reluctantly agreed to this article. The season is short and most of the crop is set aside for their regulars, who have put in reservations. If any extra is available on any given day, they will put them out for sale at the top of the driveway, and then put out the sign at the bottom of the driveway near the road. You have to drive up.
A limited amount will be available, on and off, for about the next three weeks. If you go by and the sign isn't out, head to for next best. I'm guessing the Big Y in Guilford, Bishop's in Guilford, Food Works in Guilford, and in North Madison all have decent asparagus too this time of year. Let us know in the comments if you've found any great asparagus and where.
Usually sells out by noon
You can always check back with Cole's another day. When Cole's puts the sign out, the asparagus usually sells out by noon or 1 p.m.
I bought some Wednesday that had been picked that morning. They were slim, tender spears with blueish, green tips. I took my bundle right home, and had it for lunch. But not before I fully enjoyed the smell of the uncooked spears. They smell like spring.
Pretty soon we'll get warm weather again, and Cole's will be offering tender lettuce, peas, spinach and other spring crops up at the top of the driveway. Then it will be hot and Dan Cole and his sisters and his dad will be out at the bottom of the driveway, at their farm stand selling corn, tomatoes and all of our summer favorites. Then it will be fall and we'll all wonder where the summer went.
The fleeting pleasures of spring
Until then, we have the fleeting pleasures of spring like asparagus.
I like mine al dente, just barely cooked. I usually snap off the tough stems, put them in a shallow pan with just a bit of water and butter, and steam them, loosely covered, until they are just approaching tender. I drain them and then dust the spears, gleaming with just a bit of butter, with freshly ground pepper and salt. That's it and that's all these spears needed to make a perfect meal.
If you don't have perfect spears, or if you prefer something a little more complex, here are some ideas from the cookbook, Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, by Nigel Slater, which can be ordered from the R. J. Julia website. Suzanne at R. J. Julia says they'll try to get a few copies in if they can. She also recommends Slater's Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard and Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger.
A few ideas and recipes from Slater's book
For asparagus seasoning and toppings, Slater recommends
- butter for lightly cooked spears
- lemon juice and Parmesan cheese
- a fresh tomato sauce that includes crushed tomatoes, olive oil, crushed garlic, and a splash of red wine vinegar
- bacon or pancetta with Parmesan and butter over steamed spears in a shallow baking dish in 450 degree oven for ten minutes or so
- soft boiled eggs.
Slater also provides several recipes including a pilaf of asparagus, fava beans, and mint that includes cardamom pods, cinnamon and cumin seeds. And he offers a tart of asparagus and tarragon.
Slater likes his asparagus soft and juicy, and says one way to achieve that is by preheating the oven to 350 degrees, then putting a pound of asparagus, two tablespoons of a light, mild olive oil and the juice of one lemon in an aluminum foil packet with tightly sealed edges. Bake fifteen to twenty minutes.
Since we have the in town, right across from the Stop & Shop at 119 Samson Rock Road, I wanted to offer you this recipe from Slater's book as well.
Warm asparagus, melted cheese
From Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, by Nigel Slater
"I have used Taleggio, Camembert, and English Tunworth from Hampshire as an impromptu 'sauce' for warm asparagus with great success. A very soft blue would work as well."
enough for 2
- thick, juicy asparagus spears--24
- a little olive oil or melted butter
- soft, ripe cheeses such as St. Marcellin or any of the above
Bring a deep pan of lightly salted water to a boil. Trim any woody ends from the asparagus and lower the spears gently into the water as soon as it is boiling. Cook for four or five minutes, until tender enough to bend. Lift the spears out with a slotted spoon and lower them into a shallow baking dish. Brush them lightly with olive oil or melted butter.
Preheat the boiler. Slice the cheese thickly--smaller whole cheeses can simply be sliced in half horizontally--and lay them over the top of the spears. Place under a hot broiler for four or five minutes till the cheese melts. Eat immediately, while the cheese is still runny.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.