One great local treasure is our asparagus crop. It is so significant that Stockton celebrates its annual “Asparagus Festival” each April, with folks traveling from all over to feast on this tasty vegetable deep fried, churned into ice cream and scores of other unique preparations.
So why make such a big deal of this crop? First of all, the great majority (about 70 percent) of American asparagus is grown in California, with the San Joaquin Delta area far and away the largest producer in our state. Secondly, it is one of the most nutritious and delicious of all vegetables — loaded in vitamins and minerals, and full of diverse flavors. We are so blessed to have this treasure grown in our backyard.
For many years, our Morada neighbor, Bill Zech, helped run one of the largest asparagus farms in the world. Victoria Island has over 4,000 acres in cultivation, shipping asparagus all over the world. When out-of-state friends or family would visit, Bill would graciously give a tour of his operation, helping increase our understanding and appreciation of this local crop too many take for granted.
One asparagus lesson we learned is size does matter! One might think with vegetables that the smaller, the more tender. No — not with asparagus! The bigger the spear, the better; for example, more complexity of flavor and, yes, more tenderness. Many of the largest asparagus spears are actually shipped overseas, to the Europeans and Japanese, who know their value and are willing to pay a premium. So an asparagus tip — avoid the small, thin spears and instead buy the largest possible.
Now, which method should one use to prepare asparagus: steaming, oven roasting or grilling on the barbecue? To answer, we assembled our blue-ribbon panel (most of whose last name is Seed) for an asparagus tasting. All agreed that the grilled was the best, followed by the oven roasted. The least flavorful method was steaming.
Grilled (or Oven Roasted) Asparagus
If grilling, use the “almost” hottest part of your barbecue. If oven roasting, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
Large asparagus spears, 2 to 4 per person, with tough ends snapped off
Salt and pepper
Zest of a lemon
Sliced almonds or chopped walnuts (if desired)
Brush the spears with olive oil. Generously salt and pepper all sides. If grilling, place the spears across the grates to get desirable grill marks. Grill for about two minutes, then flip over. If oven-roasting, place the seasoned spears on a cookie sheet and roast about seven minutes.
Check with a fork for doneness. Asparagus should be al dente, where the fork enters easily but then gets resistance from a firmer center. Do not overcook! If the fork has a difficult time entering, cook a minute or two longer. Put on a serving platter. Sprinkle with the lemon zest, shaved parmesan and nuts (if using.)
Savor and appreciate the rich, nutty flavor of this local treasure!
Doug Seed was raised in Bloomfield, Mich. and has lived in Morada since 1984. He is a non-denominational clergyman, specializing in research and teaching of the Bible and is also co-owner of A Moveable Feast, a Lodi-based food truck. He is married to Carole and they have four sons. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing bridge and golfing.