Growing asparagus means that you have literally put down roots. Asparagus is a perennial. During the winter the asparagus patch looks barren. Then, in the spring, stalks emerge. The season is brief and for the rest of the summer the bed is filled with frilly greens (loved by butterfly caterpillars.) An asparagus bed takes years to mature. Even varieties like Jersey Knight, which can be harvested the first year after planting, don’t really get going for a few more growing seasons. People who rent, or have a community garden that is tilled under every season, or who have pots on porches, don’t grow asparagus.
When I had my raised bed vegetable garden built, the center space was reserved for asparagus. It was a sign of commitment to this place. Besides, I love asparagus, which, like corn, tastes best if there are only minutes between harvesting and cooking. (This is true. If you only buy asparagus from Peru at the supermarket, you’ll be blown away by the difference of fresh and local, and even more so if it’s been picked steps from your back door.)
After a few years I was harvesting enough asparagus to serve it with spring dinners. I was eating the spears for mid-afternoon snacks. Then, one October, I made the mistake of letting Candy into the vegetable patch. I let her in the garden to have an outing with the hens, while they did the autumn bad bug clean-up. I thought she’d like a hop-around. I wasn’t paying attention. She dug a tunnel under the asparagus and ate the roots. All of them. My asparagus patch was felled by one bunny.
I’ve started another asparagus bed. Rabbits are banned. For now, though, I have to buy local asparagus. It’s just coming into the market.
This is my favorite way to cook it:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash the asparagus and snap off the ends. It should break where the tough stalk meets the stem. If the asparagus are fat, peel the stems at the bottom.
Place on a baking sheet and coat with olive oil. Dust with salt and pepper. Grate on Parmesan Reggiano cheese. It does cost over $15 a pound, but you don’t need much.
Place in the oven for 8 minutes. (Only 5 if the asparagus are thin like pencils.) Turn over, and bake for about 5 to 10 minutes more until the stalks are limp. Eat hot, or it’s also delicious as leftovers straight out of the fridge, with a squeeze of lemon at the last moment.