Sunday, March 25, 2012
We prepared one small bed as neither of us had before planted it. We ordered one-year old crowns to put into soil and had to wait two entire years before enjoying our first harvest. We reasoned that the crowns should produce for twenty years - plant once and reap for twenty years? - surely following the planting and maintenance instructions would be worth the wait. But we quickly learned that the hardest thing about growing asparagus is the waiting.
We found it difficult to resist cutting the slim, emerald-green shoots that popped up during those two years. Well, they looked ready to eat - like spring itself all crisp and pristine, each stalk its own tiny and perfect monument. But we waited. And then we waited some more. Now my daddy would have me believe that he never snapped one of those stalks before its time, and I’d have my daddy believe that I’d done as good a job of following the rules. That said, I know for a fact that raccoons don’t carry pocket knives and that their teeth won’t clip a tender shoot at a clean 45-degree angle. We avoided telling the truth better than we left those first asparagus spears alone. We liked them so much that we quickly decided to put in another, much larger bed of it.
When shopping for the new crowns to plant, I was thrilled to find that a small family farm in Michigan sold two-year old crowns online for less than I paid first go-’round. We’d only have to wait one year before harvesting. We then planted an asparagus bed roughly twice the size of our first. As we already had the first bed from which to harvest, surely we’d be able to avoid pilfering the newest one for a scant year. We watched with great anticipation as that bed filled with delicate ferns in fall, red berries weighing down its tall, fragile wisps of green until the first cold snap reduced it to a tangled nest which we’d clean up early the following year.
Spring is a busy time for us and daddy frequently hires a few extra hands for the trimming and mowing of his property. There are several such men he calls on to help him out. They usually have two names - the first by which everyone knows them and the second being their real name that no one quite recalls. Southerners have a deadly accurate habit of nicknaming people so the most commonly-called name is usually the one that suits best. I won’t go too far into my own speculations about the reasons Southerners like to put their own brand on everything, but my point is how Cosmo showed up to lend us a hand one morning.
Now Cosmo’s a hard worker who doesn’t own a belt. He’ll tackle just about any task you set before him and be done with it by lunchtime. If you don’t get all sidetracked with speculation over how he got his name, his gritty zeal is something to behold. It was with this robust sense of enthusiasm that he took a weed whacker to both asparagus beds already offering up their tender spears before we even knew he’d finished. I had a few more names for him after that.
better imagined -
This recipe can easily be tweaked to a lower-fat version by substituting with the ingredients appearing in italics but don’t you dare ever call it by anything other than its proper name.
Not Cosmo’s Asparagus Casserole
roughly 2 pounds (.45 kilos) fresh asparagus
6 tablespoons (86 grams) butter (6 tablespoons margarine)
4 tablespoons (57 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (237 ml) heavy cream (1 cup non-fat half and half)
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
2 cups (.45 kilos) day-old bread, cubed
1 cup (.23 kilos) coarsely-crumbled butter crackers
½ cup (.115 kilos) freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (approximately 176-7 Celsius). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While bringing the water to a boil, prepare the asparagus by holding each spear with both hands, gentling bending at its bottom half where it finds a natural snapping point. Discard the harder, fibrous ends. Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces (not too small!) and cook it in the boiling water until just softened. Remove the cooked asparagus and reserve a cup of the water.
Make a roux by melting 4 tablespoons butter (or margarine) in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in reserved asparagus water, then add the cream (or half and half), stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. Add a few pinches of paprika, then season to taste with salt. Assemble the cooked asparagus, eggs and sauce in layers in a medium-sized casserole dish, ending by smoothing sauce over the casserole’s top. In a medium-sized bowl, toss bread cubes, cracker crumbs and cheese until well-blended. Scatter this mixture over the top of the asparagus casserole and dot with remaining butter (or margarine). Bake until golden, about 25-30 minutes.