A Whiff of Spring

May 4, 2009 at 8:13 am

Melissa Graham

The local asparagus have arrived, but I haven’t had any yet. My weekly email from Fresh Picks that hit my inbox yesterday morning announced spring’s triumphant return. Mick Klug has asparagus. I didn’t order any, but the Green City Market’s inaugural outdoor market is Wednesday so I assume to see some there. Just in time too, since I have two events this week for which I promised it on the menu.

I must admit, though, that this won’t be my first taste of asparagus this year. For the first time in many years, I cheated. Before I became aware of the concept of sustainability in eating, I ate seasonally for reasons of taste. Like other really great foods, tomatoes, strawberries and peaches, pristinely fresh, locally-grown asparagus is a taste worth waiting for. And so, it’s really been a good long time since I’ve eaten asparagus from elsewhere. But this year, I succumbed.

About a week ago, we went to one of our favorite restaurants, Anteprima in Andersonville. Kaminsky Thomas’s menus usually skew pretty closely to the seasons and during the growing season, he sources from many of our Green City farmers. On this day, he had a lovely springtime menu, spring lamb, artichokes, fava beans, and peas. While undoubtedly few were locally grown, after a horrid day, the temptation was too great. Earlier that day, only a few blocks away, I was hit by a CTA bus. Yes, I’m okay, I happened to be driving in my car at the time. But after seeing my poor passenger side rear view mirror hanging off my car like an eyeball out of its socket, I was a little bummed out. After scanning the menu, the thought of more braised meat, root vegetables or Winter greens was too much to bear. Instead, I opted for the asparagus sformato. It was delicious. Tremulous, crisply green in color, creamy and clearly spring. Well worth the cheat.

Many scents are associated with Spring. My five year old loves the fresh, clean smell that emanates after a rain in late March. Others adore the perfume of tree blossoms that seems more redolent at twilight. My husband always comments on the odor of freshly laid mulch that lines the beds of many a garden. Personally, I love the smell of mercaptan in the morning.

Mercaptan is a sulfurous compound that exists in onions, garlic, a skunk’s secretion and asparagus. The odor occurs when the digestive system breaks down the compound. Some folks have the gene to break down the substance, others don’t. I do. And post Anteprima, in the course of my morning routine, I experienced my first sure sign that the Spring eating season was close at hand. With the opening of the markets this week, I look forward to my first locally-sourced whiff of spring.

Here is my favorite way to prepare asparagus, which is incredibly easy and enhances its wonderful flavor:

Sautéed Asparagus
For 6 servings

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and rinsed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt

9-inch sauté pan with lid.

Heat the butter in the pan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the asparagus and toss to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt to taste.



  1. David Hammond says:


    At the risk of asking an imbecilic question, why is it that you wait until “the foam subsides” before adding asparagus? I’ve seen this direction on other recipes, and I follow it…but I don’t know why.


  2. Hammond,

    I use it as an indication that it’s hot enough.

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