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April 15, 2009

Asparagus: The Real Sign of Spring


For some, the return of birds from warmer climates heralds the return of spring. Yet, thanks to the notorious reputation the bird has for incredible laziness, there is reason to suspect that they did not in fact migrate, but only shacked up for a long, cold winter by crashing on a friend’s couch. When the sun starts to rise higher in the sky, and the days get longer, they show up outside, stretching their wings as if they’d just completed a long journey.


A more accurate measure is the arrival of asparagus. One day, the ground is covered with a thick frost, and people are clad in seven layers of clothing; the next day, the snow is gone (as are the coats), replaced on the ground by the stiff, straight stalks of asparagus sticking up.


Asparagus sometimes comes across as if it would not get along with other foods. It’s unique, strong flavor may make it appear standoffish, as if it prefers to be mated with lemon and tarragon and none other. Certainly bacon wouldn’t immediately spring to mind as a reliable friend to asparagus.


That is because of bacon’s reputation as simple and salt-of-the earth. It typically runs with scrambled eggs and toast at breakfast, or with sliced tomato and lettuce at lunch (to suggest it has a dinner time application, in some countries, is a de facto declaration of war). The famous way that bacon and asparagus get along could be perhaps the strongest tangible evidence this side of electromagnetics of the immutable law that opposites attract.


There are very direct ways to test this, like wrapping a stalk of asparagus in bacon and grilling it. This does indeed work, but let us choose subtlety.


Chop up bacon and fry it. It should crisp well, and release some of that grease that will permit follow-on ingredients to cook without scorching to the bottom of the pan. Once fried, move it to the side and in the grease begin to sauté some chopped red onion and shiitake mushroom.


Meanwhile, in another pot, attend to some pasta. Here, you will wish to apply the Law of Proportionality. That is, you use pasta proportionately sized to match the longest ingredient, which in this case is a two-inch length of asparagus. (If you have not read minds and cut asparagus to this length, do so now).


Boil water and add penne. Once the pasta has cooked for about four minutes, add the asparagus. It will require another five minutes for the pasta to achieve its full al dente potential and for the asparagus to loosen enough for eating without turning to mush.


Once the pasta and asparagus are done, drain the water, saving a little bit. Toss with the bacon, pepper and mushrooms. If it remains too dry, add some pasta water. If you have none, break down and weep for you have failed.


Assuming that you managed to get through this, dust with a coating of Parmesan cheese and then salt and pepper to taste.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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