ontario asparagus

What's Fresh, Toronto? Asparagus!

Like the spring soldiers they are, Ontario's first asparagus shoots marched their way into Toronto farmers' markets a few weeks ago. I was so caught up in ramps and fiddleheads that the spears got the shaft, so now I am out to make it up to them.

Aside from the weird smelling pee, what's there not to love about asparagus?

The asparagus most of us know and love (Asparagus officinalis) is actually the first growth shoots of a flowering plant from the lily family. It can grow upwards of 150cm (59 inches) tall and produces small red berries. Through selective breeding the asparagus we know has become thick and fleshy, but the wild form of asparagus is much thinner and still eaten in marshy European countries like Poland and Russia.

In North America we eat more of the familiar green spears, however in recent years white asparagus has become more popular as we see it creep onto restaurant menus, and even have whole festivals dedicated to it. The white shoots are no different than the green, and the white colour is achieved by continually earthing the tops of the shots as they grow so that they are not exposed to sunlight.

Nutritionally speaking, asparagus is a good source of iron, folate and vitamin B1. From a culinary perspective, it is oh so tasty. So what to do with good old Ontario asparagus once you get it home? Well, what can't you do? Steam it, slab it in butter and, if you're feeling really fancy, a little shaved Parmesan or Piave and you've got yourself the perfect side. Or make a risotto. Or use it in summer couscous or quinoa salads. Use it in pastas. Use it in omelettes, or with lemon juice and capers in egg salad. Curry it and use it in veggie sushi. The possibilities are endless.

Ontario asparagus season will fizzle out in June, so get out there and grab it while you can.

As the growing season continues, I'll be keeping track of what is becoming available each step of the way, and will share my findings in this here farm fresh feature "What's Fresh, Toronto?" Stay tuned for future installments.


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