Pencil Thin Asparagus
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Pencil asparagus are varieties that are cultivated and harvested young specifically for their thin, tender spears. Their stems are pistachio green capped with purple- green cruciferous tree-shaped tips. They have a sweeter and more delicate grassy flavor than their more mature counterparts. Cooked pencil asparagus develop notes of toasted almonds, artichoke and butter.
Pencil asparagus is available year-round with a peak season in spring.
Asparagus, botanical name Asparagus officinalis, is a member of the Liliaceae family. It is a perennial herb with an underground rhizome known as the plant's crown. It is cultivated for its edible young stems, known as spears, which emerge in spring and summer. Pencil asparagus are harvested and sold in uniform sizes according to the diameter of the spears. Asparagus plants are either male or female. The female produces seeds, which not only reduce the size of the stalks, but also crowd the beds with seedlings. Male plants do not produce seeds and produce thicker, more desirable plants which has put new cultivars on the market that have been bred to produce only male plants for more cost-efficient crops.
Asparagus contains more glutathione than any other fruit or vegetable. This antioxidant plays an important role in the prevention of certain cancers and diseases, nutrient metabolism and regulating DNA and protein synthesis.
Pencil asparagus is tender enough to be eaten raw and if cooked, should be done so over high and brief heat, whether grilled, sauteed or steamed. Little embellishment is needed to showcase pencil asparagus' best qualities. Spring ingredients such as morel mushrooms, green garlic, wild ramps, fennel, leeks, young lettuces and citruses such as lemon and grapefruit are most suitable pairings. Other complimentary ingredients include aged nutty cheeses such as pecorino and alpine cheeses, bacon, proscuitto, cream, eggs, butter, shallots, herbs such as thyme and basil, yeasty breads like sourdough and wheat and grains such as brown rice, quinoa and farro. Asparagus will keep, dry and refrigerated, for up to a week.
Asparagus is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. Though widely found growing wild it is has been cultivated as a vegetable crop for centuries. As it was historically found growing in maritime regions, it prefers sandy weedless soils. The cultivation of asparagus is a long term commitment. Not only does it take two to three years for the plant to yield its first crop, the plants can potentially continue to produce from fifteen to thirty years of harvests. Asparagus plants are prolific growers, creating ten inch shoots that emerge from the soil within 24 hours under ideal growing conditions. You may witness asparagus "growing" once picked. This is because asparagus spears absorb moisture from the air which creates a swelling in size. Feathered fern-like foliage and flowers indicate the end of the plant's season for the year. Female asparagus' seeds are carried by birds, allowing for domesticated crops to easily escape into wild domain, creating future populations. Cultivated and wild asparagus thrive in temperate regions of North America and Western Europe.
Recipes that include Pencil Thin Asparagus. One is easiest, three is harder.