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Grim's Grub: It's all Greek, especially the asparagus

Asparagus is one of my favorite perennials, largely because it makes an appearance so early after the winter. This is important because by the time I see the first shoots, I am abundantly ready to eat some fresh veggies.

In the garden or in the wild, it is worth noting that early spring is about shoots - young perennial plants just peeking out of the soil and not yet sun touched enough to put a lot of chloroform and cellulose into their cells.

Apparently at one time the Greek word that became asparagus, "aspharagos," referred to edible shoots in general. Even cattail shoots would have been called aspharagos.

Asparagus-lover.com says that in the Illiad, the word also referred to "throat" or "gullet," which means at the time rowdy soldiers may have threatened each other with the phrase, "Don't make me punch you in the asparagus."

Linguistically the word adapted into "asparagus" in Latin, then "sparagus" before joining the English language in 1000 AD and "sperach" and "sperage" in the 16th century. Asparagus-lover.com says it returned to the classic Latin thanks to herbalists and academics.

I find it hard to believe, but it is considered a distant cousin to the onion and a member of the liliaceae family, according to cultures.ca. It doesn't seem to have a lot in common with either family, from an untrained eye.

The plant itself originated in the eastern Mediterranean, possibly in some parts of Africa as well. It surprisingly went by the wayside during the Middle Ages, according to cultures.ca, continuing in Arabic countries until Caesar reclaimed it for his empire. It was a favorite food of Louis XIV and French court.

I always associated asparagus with my German heritage, and it seems others do so as well, perhaps due to the truly perennial quality of this and other plants. Families at one time would maintain a long line of perennials through a process of digging up old plants, separating crowns and replanting. Sometimes the separated crowns would have been given to an adult child or other family member, and this is likely how some really old plants wound up in Minnesota, inherited from the old world where they perfected a method for growing "white asparagus." There is nothing actually genetic about white asparagus. It is the same plant as green asparagus, simply blanched by burying the young shoots as they grow so they do not reach sunlight immediately. This keeps the shoots white and tender longer.

Purple asparagus, on the other hand, is a special cultivar developed in Italy to have high sugar and less fiber. It is best cooked gently with steam or a fast sautee or short grill time. Simple toppings can include hollandaise sauce, cheese sauce, lemon juice or my favorite, butter and garlic salt.

Hollandaise

4 egg yolks

1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ cup unsalted butter

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch salt

Whisk the egg yolks and lemon vigorously together in a stainless steel bowl until the mixture thickens and doubles with volume. Place the stainless bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water. The water should not be high enough to touch the bottom of the bowl.

Continue to whisk rapidly, being careful to lift the bowl off of the heat any time it seems the eggs may be getting too hot. If they get too hot they will scramble.

Slowly drizzle in melted (but not hot) butter while whisking. It should double in volume again before you remove it from the heat and mix in the remaining ingredients.

Serve while warm over cooked asparagus and eggs with a side of bacon. If this mixture cools it is garbage, so keep it warm.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Courtesy of Lisa Lin of simplyrecipes.com

1 pound thick asparagus

3 ounces sliced prosciutto

2 tablespoons olive oil

Ground black pepper

Lemon zest, optional

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and then line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.

Remove any tough pieces from your asparagus, then wrap each spear of asparagus with half of a slice of prosciutto.

As you wrap it, try to "stretch" the prosciutto just a little. This will make for tighter wraps.

Lay them on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and pepper. Bake 8-10 minutes or until tender. Top with lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.

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