By Ellen Kelly

By now, I’m sure we’re all a little frantic for anything local, preferably fresh and green. Spring officially starts on March 21 (a cruel joke, if you ask me), but our world is likely still ensconced in ice and snow well into March and, all too often, April.

Soon, however, we will start to see inklings of the season coming from closer to home; asparagus, a favourite harbinger of spring. If you prefer to wait for Alberta homegrown, we are very lucky indeed to be blessed with Edgar Farms asparagus, with an outlet located at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, starting mid-May and going until the end of June.

Spring's Asparagus

Edgar Farms Asparagus

Asparagus, when it’s allowed to go its own way, becomes a large fern-like perennial with bright red berries. The spears, as they push up in the spring, are harvested at about 6 – 12 inches, then graded by size and sold in bunches. It’s not the case, as some believe, that thinner spears of asparagus are more tender.

Since asparagus, like so many vegetables, starts to lose its sweet flavour and nutritional value the moment it’s cut, ‘the fresher the better’ is always the rule of thumb. Look for a clean fresh cut at the butt end and tight unblemished tips.

To prepare asparagus, gently bend a stalk near the end and when it snaps, use it as a measure to trim the rest. If you’re still concerned about tenderness, you can peel away a little of the skin at the bottom two inches of the spear.

Don’t overcook asparagus. A quick plunge into salted boiling water until just tender will do the trick. Asparagus is lovely grilled as well. Roll the spears in a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast or grill until tender and the spears have a little colour. Any leftover asparagus can be tossed into soups, stir-fries, quiches, scrambled eggs or even added to a sandwich, especially one made with good bread, sliced cold chicken and mayonnaise.

The addition of asparagus to a favourite frittata recipe creates a perfect spring meal, lunch or dinner.

Spring Asparagus Frittata

Oven roast half a head of cauliflower, broken into florets and tossed in a little olive oil. When the cauliflower has caramelized, but is still firm, about 20-25 minutes, remove from the oven. Oven roast 1 lb of trimmed asparagus, brushed with oil, until caramelized. Meanwhile, sauté 1 chopped yellow onion with 1 chopped red bell pepper, season as you cook. Set vegetables aside. In a large bowl, beat 10 eggs with 2½ cups light cream, ½ tsp tabasco sauce, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, salt and white pepper. Stir in ½ cup bread crumbs, chopped fresh thyme, lots of chopped fresh parsley, 1½ cups grated manchego cheese, and ½ cup grated parmesan, then stir in the onion and pepper. Generously butter a 9 x 11 baking dish and dust with bread crumbs. Arrange the cauliflower and asparagus in the dish and gently pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Top with grated manchego and parmesan. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350° until there is only the slightest wobble in the centre and the top is puffed and golden. Let the frittata sit for about 10 minutes before cutting in squares to serve with a tossed salad.