On the first day of asparagus, those freshly picked spears are a welcome gift after a long winter. Elsewhere in the garden, early spring planting takes a while to show results, as potato stems break the soil surface, pea tendrils grasp their trellis netting, and the green fuzz of newly sown carrots appears in rows.
Not much is ready to pick yet — maybe some over-wintered scallions and spinach. But up pops the asparagus from its permanent bed, the reward of work done in the past. Only after three years of its growth can you pilfer the spears without robbing the plants of their strength, and only for a six-week season.
Fresh new asparagus is so delicious that there’s no need to dress it up. Steam it lightly, slick it with butter, sprinkle on some salt, and that’s it. We can’t seem to get enough of it, so there it is on the plate every day, next to everything. Any spears the thickness of a pencil or greater, are cut to the ground to keep the plants producing new ones. And they do, at an ever-increasing pace.
In the third week of asparagus, asparagus soup is on the table, and asparagus in cream sauce is poured over buttered toast. By the fourth, extra spears are piling up in the fridge. Some are offered to friends, or taken to work. It seems like a good time to have a little dinner party. Asparagus gratin? Asparagus quiche? Asparagus with a cheesy sauce Mornay?
As always, the continued abundance of one particular crop in the garden inspires creativity. How about tossing this one into a fettucine Alfredo? Inventing asparagus guacamole? Or making an open-faced omelet topped with asparagus, scallions, feta cheese, smoked salmon, and the new leaves of tarragon?
In the fifth week it’s tempting to stop picking asparagus for a while, but if we do, the spears will all grow tall and woody, and the feast will come to an end. It’s possible to freeze part of the harvest, but some vegetables freeze better than others, and asparagus tends to be mushy when thawed.
This is the time when bundles of home-grown asparagus appear for sale at the local food co-op, and are dropped off at the free food pantry, because the final week is approaching and even in its excess asparagus seems too precious to waste. Picking it stops after week six so as not to stress the plants any further, and allow them to go to leaf.
So we have one more meal of it, maybe just steamed and buttered, and let the tall stems grow and erupt in fernlike foliage. We put down a hay mulch to help keep out the weeds that can ruin even an established bed. The tall, abundant plants are a welcome sight, the perfect backdrop for a garden, equally handsome when they turn a gold color in fall before dying down and going dormant — until spring.
Open Faced Omelet with Asparagus and Smoked Salmon
Yields 2 servings
This is the supper dish we fix when we want something quick and light. It’s also great as a breakfast or brunch dish when family or friends are visiting.
Because the omelet is not folded, it is always foolproof, always pretty, and you avoid the risk of overcooking the bottom while you’re waiting for the inside to set. The brevity of the cooking keeps the eggs very tender. The trick is to start them on top of the stove in a skillet, add whatever ingredients inspire you, then run them under a hot broiler just long enough to finish cooking the eggs.
Our omelets use the vegetables that are in season. The version below is a spring one, made for two people. Double the recipe and it will serve four, but the omelet will be thicker. Increasing the skillet size makes it hard to cut wedges. Best to keep making small ones until everybody has been fed. They’re that quick.
3 large eggs
¼ cup cream
2 Tbsps. butter
12 asparagus spears, tender tips only
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
2 oz. smoked salmon, cut into cubes
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Pinch of tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Turn the broiler to high.
In a small pan, simmer the asparagus tips until just tender, about 5 minutes, and set aside.
In a small to medium bowl, whisk the eggs and cream until uniform in color but not frothy, about 30 seconds.
Melt the butter in an oven-proof 9- or 10-inch skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium low heat. Pour in the eggs and let them set for about 1 minute to put a skin on the bottom, then remove from the heat.
Sprinkle on the asparagus, scallions, smoked salmon, feta cheese, tarragon and salt and pepper to taste.
Put the skillet 4 to 6 inches under the broiler and watch the eggs as they set. Shake or tilt them a bit to test for runniness, or insert a knife to see if it comes out clean. Remove them as soon as they are set, to avoid overcooking.
Cut in four wedges and serve immediately right from the skillet. Pass Tabasco and salt at the table.