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Flavour Guy: Finger lickin’ good asparagus

I wasn’t hungry this winter. Soup was good, thank you. Soup for lunch, for dinner. What the heck, as I eat steel cut oats on most wintery days, you might say I eat soup for breakfast too. Nothing wrong with a good soup.

Take last night’s meal: Roast chicken, leftover baked potato wedges, wintry veggies—carrots or broccoli, maybe some squash—cut them up and stir them together, add the chicken gravy and the end of a bottle of wine and it’s stew. Nothing wrong with a good stew. Add more liquid and we are back to soup.

My daughter claims that I default to soup. Leftover soup freezes well. If it has been in the freezer too long, I might add some curry and coconut milk, to nudge a dish leaning in the direction of Italian or French toward Indian or Thai and give it a Flavourguy flavourboost to help me settle into another cold night. We do this kind of thing in winter.

Even as we dream of palm trees, we try to conserve our energy through another grey, miserable day. And then there were days this winter when we went out as little as possible. Even in Montreal—the city that loves winter—cabin fever can set in. Do you really want to go out? Do you want to leave the house, shovel the walk, remember where we parked the car, find the car, start the car, shiver in the car, and then actually drive somewhere? Let’s check what’s in the freezer. Ahh, there’s soup!

But spring! Open a few windows, open a few doors. Let the breezes in. As soon as it gets slightly above freezing, I need something green. A trip to the farmers’ market for the season’s first asparagus cannot come soon enough. Tomatoes, I know, will have to wait. That wonderful, glorious first weekend when they are local and really luscious is still a while off.

Spring is about promise. A great, sink-your-teeth-into-ripeness tomato is not about promise. It is about fulfillment. Spring teaches us to wait, to sharpen our appetites, to start salivating. It is like a “Le Mans start,” where racers run to their cars. We know what we want and we cannot get it soon enough—but we have been through this before and we must wait. Tomatoes are for later. Spring, with its sharp sense of newness, its promise of every brighter tomorrows … that starts today.

Asparagus—not asparagus soup—here I come.

Steamed asparagus is fine.

Trim a good inch or so—all of the woody part of the stem. The stalks might end up being only about 8 or 9 inches, but that’s fine. Steam them until they are tender, drain them, and squeeze fresh lemon juice or a pour a simple vinaigrette over them. Add a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds (which are really easy to get in Montreal—just look at the bottom of your bag of bagels and save those seeds). This is great served chilled or at room temperature.

The best, to my mind, are roasted or grilled. Cooking asparagus this way brings out the sugar. Place trimmed asparagus in a single layer on a baking tray. Drizzle olive oil over them and put them in the middle of an oven preheated to 425F/220C. Check after five minutes and turn them. Bake another few minutes, until the edges are crisp and they droop when picked up. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot. If you are cooking on a grill, it only takes a few minutes.

My mom used to tell me that Emily Post said that we may eat asparagus with our fingers. I trust them both.

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