In the spring vegetable world, the two big showstoppers are both green and begin with the letter "A." For many cooks, the arrival of artichokes and asparagus mean that winter is finally a wrap and it's time to kiss those turnips goodbye.
In the produce aisles and at market, these two very different species (the 'choke's a member of the thistle family; the 'gus is a member of the lily guild) are like two beauty pageant contestants, vying for attention and accolades. They create excitement and fanfare as well as emotions that run high on both sides of the culinary fence.
It is hard to find someone who loves both vegetables equally. And if you're a member of that club, speak up! We want to hear from you. Generally, though, based on highly unscientific data, I find that nearly everyone loves asparagus yet when it comes to the artichoke, well, the issue becomes a bit thorny. Here's my take on the two, and I welcome you to weigh in on this debate in the comments area below.
At first glance, the artichoke is a real looker. But perhaps like that girl you always wanted to ask out in high school, she makes it difficult for admirers to get closer, with her weaponry of prickly thorns studded all over her torso. Courageous cooks in pursuit of the artichoke's heart must not only wear gloves but work doggedly, pulling at leaves and cutting away at her exterior, only to be faced with a bunch of fuzz. I get tired just thinking about her.
Ever since my days in a restaurant prep kitchen in Philadelphia, when I had to cut up crates of artichokes until my hands were bloody, I've been avoiding them. And every year at this time, they tempt me with their budding beauty, but I just keep walking, moving on to something well, less prickly.
If you make it past the thorns and fuzz, now you're faced with another challenge: eating the darned thing. "The Oxford Companion to Food" remarks that with the artichoke, "The eater must be equipped with front teeth and patience."
I put it in the same category as hard crabs. All that work, with little reward in return. I just don't get it. And just like diehard crab lovers, who wax eloquent about pounding a mallet over newspaper tablecloths every summer, the 'choke lovers argue that sucking on leaves dipped in lemony mayonnaise is akin to culinary nirvana.
Asparagus, on the other hand, is not only pretty, it's versatile. She's everybody's friend, and she shows up without issues.
Elegant, versatile and extremely nutritious, spears of asparagus are a beginner cook's dream come true. You can do almost anything to asparagus and it still tastes good. Whether steamed, microwaved, sautÃ©ed, roasted, grilled or pureed, the 'gus requires little cooking time or imagination but offers tasty, gorgeous and nutritious results.
If you're pregnant, asparagus is a powerhouse of the much-needed folic acid, and for everybody else, you're getting hearty quotients of potassium, vitamin C, B6, potassium and a fabulous antioxidant called glutathione. If you're dieting, those babies set you back only 4 calories per spear.
So, I ask you: Which is it - the 'choke or the 'gus -- and why? And if you're a rare bird who loves both equally, I want to hear from you too. Recipes and cooking tips welcome.
Have a great weekend -- and be careful what you say in that produce aisle...
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