A lesson in Asparagus

At the grocery store the other day, I was picking up some romaine lettuce for dinner when I spotted something very unusual: purple asparagus.

I had never seen it before. The little sign said “tender and sweet”, and also proclaimed it to be a dollar more per pound than the green asparagus. There was one bunch left. I noticed a fellow shopper standing by the oranges who was noticing me noticing the asparagus. Her eyes drifted down to the sole bunch, standing lonely it it’s little trough of water.

Always the competitive produce shopper, I snatched up the bunch and was on my merry way to the cashier. When I got home, I googled it and learned the following facts about asparagus:

  • Asparagus was used in cooking and medicine by the ancient egyptians as early as 3000 BC;
  • It is harvested when its shoots are young. If it is left to grow, the top (or the “flower” part of the plant) will unfurl and the stalk will become woody and inedible;
  • Its fruit is a red berry that is poisonous to humans;
  • White asparagus is grown the same way as green, but is shaded from the sun so that it does not produce chlorophyll, which causes the green colour;
  • I am super creeped out by white asparagus;
  • When he was a kid, Cheesler used to call it “dinosaur grass”. Ok, maybe I didn’t learn that one by googling it.
  • Purple asparagus was “developed” in Italy and is called Violetto d’Albenga; It is higher in sugar and lower in fibre. So basically it’s the junk food of the asparagus family. But it is shore is purty!
  • Otherwise, green asparagus is extremely high in vitamins, antioxidants and low in sodium and calories. Great diet food, as long as you don’t drench it in butter and salt, like I do.

Okay that’s enough about asparagus. Now I would like to talk for a moment about umami. Umami is the “fifth basic taste”, alongside sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. Apparently, it was debated for so long as to whether umami was a taste that they held an Umami International Symposium in 1985, at which it was decided that yes, it was a taste. The word is Japanese in origin and means “pleasant and savoury”. So that good, hearty, meaty, je ne sais quoi taste that you get when you eat a steak, or a mushroom, or parmesan cheese is umami.

In the Soph n’ Stuff household, we always grate parmesan cheese, rather than buying the pre-grated stuff. It is the bane of our existence, and the one who is not preparing the main dish is usually the one stuck grating the cheese. This particular apparatus shown in the photo is known to have grated a knuckle or five in its time. My poor, war-torn and scarred hands tell the story. But it is the only way to get that nice, nutty flavour of fresh parmesan, so we will suffer through to the end for that taste.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the meal I prepared for this post was almost entirely umami. Grilled new york striploin steaks basted in garlic oil and topped with a horseradish sauce…

Portobello mushrooms marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then grilled…

The infamous purple asparagus grilled with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.

And finally, something I have never tried before, let alone thought of as a thing: grilled romaine hearts. My friend J tod me about this and I found it irresistable. You take a romaine heart and cut it in half lengthwise, with the stump still on to keep the leaves together. Brush the cut side with some garlic oil and grill for about a minute on high heat, then just squirt with lemon juice and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Delish! Tastes like caesar salad except…well…grilled! And contrary to what you might be thinking, it doesn’t get all wilty like a salad that’s sat in the sun too long. The edges are kind of browned and the inside is crisp and cool.

Finally, a gratuitous shot of Cheesler’s man-hands cutting into the steak, for those of you with both a food porn addiction and a man-hand fetish. If you think you’re ready to join the support group, we meet Thursdays.

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Categories: Food

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  1. Discover the Fifth Taste: Umami – The Height Cuisine Video Series #2 « Calgary Recreational and Ultralight Flying Club (CRUFC) - July 19, 2011

    […] A lesson in Asparagus (sophieidsinga.wordpress.com) […]

  2. The Weekly Yum-ster: Food Pantry Smorgasbord « After the Ecstasy, the Laundry . . . - June 6, 2011

    […] A lesson in Asparagus (sophieidsinga.wordpress.com) […]

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