Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Asparagus: an untitled post

(After arguing with BK Editing Services, this post is offically untitled. "Asparagus" denotes today's topic. Happy reading.--The BK Crew, aka BK and Hockeyman)


It's springtime in California, or what passes for it in these globally-ruined times. This means our weekly farm box is changing. The months of collards, cabbages, lettuces, and the occasional bunch o' turnips are now leavened by spring onions, carrots, a brief flash of fava beans, English peas, and bundles of asparagus.

Asparagus! One is instructed to cook it immediately, lest it lose its inimitable freshness. Can't cook it now? Place the bundle upright, in water, like a green bouquet.

The only suitable vessel I have for uprighting asparagus is an oversized Detroit Red Wings mug featuring a bleeding transfer of Sergei Federov, skating in his dress reds. He should've never left the Wings, and God knows they need him now. But for the moment, he is static in my fridge, holding up the asparagus.

"I don't like asparagus," I admitted to Hockeyman earlier today.

He looked scandalized. "You don't?"

"I like canned asparagus. Isn't that awful?"

His expression said I married this person? "You know," He said. "Alice Waters is going to take away your secret power ring. Canned!"

I know. I never saw fresh asparagus until my late twenties. My mother bought the occasional can, a luxury, and meted out a few twigs of the khaki stuff to each family member. I especially loved the stalks.

Now I never buy canned asparagus. See, I have this fresh stuff from the farm, and I'm supposed to prefer it. So I've dutifully washed it, sauteéd it, squirted lemon over it, broiled it with olive oil and garlic, bathed it in butter. And I invariably find it bitter, fibrous, even minerally at times.

I don't like asparagus.

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Food dislikes are a funny business. While individual tastes vary--I have always hated hot dogs, and Hockeyman cannot abide cottage cheese--certain foods are meant to transcend. Asparagus, fresh peas, apple pie (another food I am indifferent to), stuffing, fried chicken. If you live in Alice Waters territory, as I do, you are supposed to swoon at the sight of fresh baby lettuces. I don't. Then again, I love a lot of veggies people profess to hate: rutabagas, turnips, celeraic. I like cabbage well enough and have become so addicted to dark greens that if I go without them a few days, cravings set in.

Even funnier is the guilt associated with disliking certain foods. It's okay to shun MacDonald's, but confessing to asparagus aversion is like admitting you don't get Pynchon: you're a fake. Hand over those Berkeley-pc-intellectual credentials now.

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So what's a humiliated palate to do?

Try to like the offending food, of course. Here is Laurie Colwin on stuffing:

"It was years before I could come out and say how much I hated stuffing ... Holiday after holiday I would push my portion around my plate ... Everyone else loved it. It was clear I was in opposition to a national tradition."

After an outing at her home involving an unstuffed turkey, Colwin attempts amends. The perfect stuffing appears to her as she's drowsing: cornbread and prosciutto. Its raging success leads her to conclude:

"After all, an unstuffed turkey is like a jigsaw puzzle of the American flag with a piece missing right in the middle."

Fortunately, asparagus lacks such connotations. But vegetable guilt is a powerful thing. Chef Jessica Prentice, in Full Moon Feast, documents her efforts toward Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes:

"I still haven't acheived a fondness for Jersualem artichokes ... (she acquires some from a local farmer and takes them to a catering job) ... I debated whether I should serve the sunchokes as well ... I wanted to like them. I boiled them right there at the catering job and then cut into a steaming hot, knobby little nugget, and plopped it in my mouth, hoping to fall in love. I didn't. Yuck, I thought."

She goes on to say she'll keep trying them, though, in the hopes of acquiring a taste for them.

Both Colwin and Prentice keep trying, as I do--the asparagus keeps coming, and I keep preparing it. I doubt I'll ever come to like it as I do other vegetables. But last night, paging through Chez Panisse Vegetables, I found Green Risotto with Fava Bean Purée, Peas, and Asparagus. It's rather involved, what with peeling the favas, pureeing them, and coping with the whole broth-risotto-experience, so I will tear Hockeyman away from the playoffs to act as sous chef.

The recipe calls for asparagus cut on the diagonal and stirred in the rice toward the end of cooking. But the rest of it--the beans and peas, garlic, butter, broth--looks so wonderul that I think I'll be able to cope.

Or I can direct Hockeyman to slice the stalks into longish lengths. They'll be that much easier to push aside.

Laurie Colwin:Home Cooking. New York, Harper Perennial. 1988: 132-5.

Jessica Prentice:Full Moon Feast. Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing. 2006: 13-15.

Alice Waters: Chez Panisse Vegetables. New York, Harper Collins. 1996: 143.

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