The asparagus plant thrives in warm weather with good rainfall, and is a flowering perennial which can keep producing for up to 30 years.
Originating in Europe, it belongs to the lily family, like the related allium species which includes onions and garlic. The crown of the plant sits under the soil; in spring, shoots of asparagus start to appear and can be cut off just above soil level.
Extremely nutritious, asparagus is full of vitamin C, a wide range of B vitamins, folate and iron, as well as potassium and sodium. It is also low in kilojoules, providing fibre without fat or cholesterol.
There are three different types of asparagus: green, white and purple. Green and white asparagus are the same, but while white asparagus is grown in the dark, the green variety gets its colour from the process of photosynthesis as the spear emerges into the sunlight.
Purple asparagus gets its colour from the high levels of potential antioxidants in the spears, and has a lower fibre content than the green or white variety.
The best asparagus spears are long and thick, with tightly closed heads.
Asparagus can be eaten raw or cooked by a variety of methods. It is tasty steamed, stir-fried, baked, blended, in a salad or cooked on the barbecue.
Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market stallholder Darling Street Asparagus currently has green asparagus, which is grown on its Renmark farm. Adelaide Showground Farmers’ Market is open on Sundays, from 9am-1pm at the Adelaide Showground, Leader Street, Wayville.
Asparagus is also available at the McLaren Vale Orchards stall at Willunga Farmers’ Market, open on Saturdays from 8am-12.30pm. Also open on Saturdays, from 8am-noon, is the Gawler Farmers’ Market at the Gawler Visitor Information Centre, 2 Lyndoch Road, Gawler.
Despite the recent storms and flooding which have affected some vegetable growers, all the markets will be open as usual this weekend.
Lyndall Vandenberg, marketing and communications coordinator for the Willunga Farmers’ Market, has supplied a recipe (below) for antipasto using fresh asparagus.
Vandenberg says less is more when cooking with asparagus, which is delicious simply barbecued or pan-fried, then seasoned with salt and pepper and served with some extra virgin olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice.
“It’s hard to find a food that means spring more to me than asparagus,” she says.
“Antipasto is more amazing ingredients and method than precise ingredient quantities. You will need a couple of adequate fry-pans, platters for serving and a bottle of good wine.”
Ingredients for Vandenberg’s recipe can all be sourced from farmers’ market producers, including McCarthy’s Orchards, P & L Rogers, Alnda Farms, San Jose Smallgoods, Woodside Cheese Wrights, Virgara’s Garden, B + A Andonopoulos and B.-d Farm Paris Creek.
Cheese (we used Woodside Cheese Wrights’ Edith ashed goat cheese)
Extra virgin olive oil
Thick slices of crusty bread
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim the asparagus by cutting off the hard ends.
Heat a little olive oil in a frypan and, when hot, cook the asparagus for about 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Season with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.
Cut the mushrooms into thick slices. In a separate pan, add a tablespoon of butter and place on medium/high heat to melt then place the mushrooms in the pan in a single layer, turning them over as they brown. Once brown on both sides, add thick slices of shallots and the tomatoes, then stir the pan occasionally until the mushrooms are cooked through and the tomato skins begin to wrinkle. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange all ingredients on platters and drizzled with a little olive oil. Enjoy!
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