Asparagus Points Out: Spring is Here

by Kirke on April 2, 2013

Asparagus from Cecchini Farms in Brentwood displayed at the College of San Mateo Farmer’s Market
Asparagus from Cecchini Farms in Brentwood displayed at the College of San Mateo Farmer’s Market
Asparagus from Cecchini Farms in Brentwood displayed at the College of San Mateo Farmer’s Market


Spring is in the air in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Delta asparagus loads the tables at the Farmer’s Markets. Sparrowgrass, a slang term for asparagus popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, possibly refers to the wild variety, a thin but tender, grass-like variation. If you were to visit the wholesale produce market early some spring morning, you might still hear vendors yelling for one more case of “grass.” A slang tradition continues.

Botanically speaking, asparagus is a member of the lily family. The word asparagus comes from the Greek asparagos, meaning shoot or stalk. The moniker was the source for naming the amino acid asparagine, which is found in the spears, and some say gives the characteristic odor in the urine of a consumer. Others claim the blame lies in the sulfur containing methyl mercaptan, a derivative of methionine, another amino acid found in asparagus. When it comes to odors, I would bet on the sulfur-containing compound! Until 1980 it was thought that excretion of the odorous methyl mercaptan was a dominant genetic trait; if you carried the gene you were a stinker. A study was released in that year that showed all asparagus consumers excreted the chemical, but only some had the ability to notice the odor! Regardless, asparagus is unspearingly nutritious, a 5.3 oz. serving, about 5 spears, is high in folic acid at 60% of recommended daily allowance, with 400 mg of potassium, and both B6 and thiamine.

Cultivated for over 2000 years, the tender shoots that grow in early spring around the San Joaquin-Sacramento delta region in California are considered by chefs to be the world’s finest, especially the thick stalked variety. An asparagus plant takes three years to mature, and pass their prime after six to eight years. It’s best to eat them the day you buy them, as they grow woody over time. Peel them carefully and grill them quickly, steam or sauté, topping them as you like, plainly with brown butter or classic French with hard-cooked egg, bacon and vinaigrette. For a healthy appetizer recipe, try the following marinated asparagus paired with white anchovy and spicy lemon peel. When in season, use the local Northern Anchovy harvested from the bay (April-October). Anchovies are super high in Omega-3 oil, and are a local, sustainable fishery.


Nutrition information. (2000). Retrieved March 30, 2013, from Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board website:

Asparagus. (1996). In J. Fortin, F. Fortin, & S. D’Amico (Eds.), The visual food encyclopedia (pp.106-107). New York, NY: Macmillan.

McGee, H. (1984). On food and cooking. New York, NY: Collier.

Kingman, S. (2013). Anchovy fishing on San Francisco Bay. Retrieved from travel/california/anchovy-fishing-00418000068993/



Marinated Asparagus and White Anchovies with Spicy Pickled Meyer Lemon Peel

Makes 10 pieces

Asparagus Marinade-dressing


1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, strained, simmered, and reduced to 1/2 cup
1 Tbs. minced shallot
1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest
1 Tbs. whole grain mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup good quality apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil



Mix all the ingredients in a deep bowl with high sides, except for the olive oil. Using an immersion blender, puree for a 20-30 seconds. Slowly add the olive oil with the blender running until all is added. I like it pretty tangy, but try it and adjust seasoning and/or oil to your taste. You can use a food processor if you don’t have a hand held blender.

Cover and store at room temperature until ready to use, up to 5 days. The dressing will maintain an emulsion for a few days. Cover and refrigerate for longer periods to one month, re-blending for use.

Spicy Pickled Meyer Lemon Peel


5 firm, unblemished Meyer lemons, washed and dried (substitute with regular lemons)
3/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (substitute with white balsamic or champagne vinegar)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbs. sea salt
3/4 cup pure olive oil
1 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs. finely grated fresh garlic
2 tsp. brown mustard seed
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 serrano chile, with seeds, sliced into thin rounds



  • Bring enough water to cover the peels to a simmer in a medium sauce pan. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the lemons in large, intact strips, from end to end.
  • Using a sharp paring knife, and cutting at a sharp angle, remove any white pith remaining on the underside of the peel. Remove all the pith in this manner.
  • Immerse the peels into the simmering water. Cook over low heat for around 3 minutes. Spread flat onto a t0wel to drain, pat dry and let cool.
  • In a medium sauce pan, stir together the vinegar, brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until dissolved, about a minute. Remove from heat and reserve.
  • Measure all of the remaining ingredients onto a large plate, except for the olive oil.
  • Heat the olive oil in a deep sauce pan over medium heat until just before it starts smoking, about 450?F for a pure olive oil.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients carefully. Stir a couple of times and cook for a minute of two. Immediately, stir the olive oil mixture into the vinegar mixture.
  • Place the lemon peels with the sliced chile into a bowl. Add the oil and vinegar mixture. Mix well, cover and store at least overnight before using. Three days will bring more spicy flavor to the peel.

For the Asparagus:

Find 12-15 fat spears of very fresh asparagus.

Trim the asparagus to about 3-4 inches in length. Cutting at an angle will give a nicer appearance to your presentation. Save the rest of the spears for another preparation. The recipe calls for ten pieces of appetizer, but I have suggested prepping extra in case of breakage or thievery.


  • Set up a steamer, or bring some water to boil with a little salt.
  • Cook the asparagus tips for two minutes.
  • Refresh in cold water until the interior is cool.
  • Toss the asparagus with enough of the Asparagus marinade-dressing to coat them well.
  • Let the asparagus sit for around a half an hour to an hour before serving.

Marinated Asparagus and White Anchovies with Spicy Pickled Meyer Lemon Peel

To present the appetizers:


  • 10 marinated spears of asparagus
  • 10 pickled strips of Meyer lemon peel
  • 10 Dinon white anchovies in vinaigrette

Bring all the ingredients to room temperature before serving. Overly chilled ingredients will degrade your culinary experience.

  • Wrap each asparagus spear with one lemon peel, top with one anchovy fillet; twist the two to go around the circumference of the asparagus.
  • Using a 5 inch skewer, starting from the bottom, pierce the anchovy, lemon, and the base of the asparagus, pointing upwards towards the other end where the anchovy and lemon lay on the other side. Picture the trajectory of each skewer, before thrusting the skewer firmly through. This can take a little practice. Your success and happy guests will be your reward.
  • Top with freshly ground black pepper before serving.








Leave a Comment

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy April 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Yummmy! We get “leftover” asparagus up here 🙂 Lately we have been preparing it raw in a salad with red onions ..but being an anchovy junky, this must be tried :)) I have a bag of plain old organic lemons…will those do? Anchovies… hmmm white? not sure where these might come from; we get anchovies in a jar here.. will they do?

Standing by for directions 🙂 … fabulous fabulous pictures, as always…

Feed me!



Kirke April 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Hi Joy. The rare anchovy lover is always welcome! The white anchovies are cured in brine and then stored in vinaigrette as opposed to the salt cure that is usually found in jars and cans in the US. I used a brand called Dinon from Italy. You should be able to find them online. They are imported by Italfoods. If you like salt cured anchovies you can substitute by rinsing the salt cured ones in water, patting dry, and then soaking them in the vinaigrette featured in the recipe. The only drawback is the appearance. You can get around that by wrapping the asparagus with the lemon peel on the outside of the anchovy. Organic lemons will work fine, although I have found that some have much thicker rinds than a Meyer lemon does. If that is the case, when trimming the white pith from the inside of the peel, trim some yellow peel until they are all of a uniform thickness. The skewering is tricky, but I won’t tell if you serve the dish plated ;-).


Joy April 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thanks! I will find those anchovies on line! I love “easy” buttons !


Valerie Anderson April 6, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I LOVE the picture of the asparagus in the picture of the farmers market-so fresh and spring-like-can’t get really nice asparagus here in Hong Kong and not really an Asian kind of veggie. Who new asparagus was stinky? I love it cooked perfectly and cut into little pieces in a salad.


Kirke April 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Thank you for your comment, Valerie. I neglected to give credit to the particular farm. They are Cecchini Farms, located in Brentwood in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Rivers Delta, where the worlds greatest (or at least pretty darn great) asparagus is grown.


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