Iowa Asparagus

By Adam Calder, Wheatsfield Produce Manager

Spring showers have done their job, and the tips of delicious asparagus from Iowa Asparagus LLC in Ankeny have burst forth from the rain-dampened soil.

Wheatsfield Cooperative has been doing business with Iowa Asparagus LLC for many years, and each year their asparagus is better than the year before. Delicious flavor, crisp texture and a delicate blush of purple have come to define this fantastic asparagus. Wheatsfield sells about 100 pounds a week of this seasonal delicacy, but only for about six weeks. That six-week period usually starts the last week of April or the first week of May, whenever nighttime temperatures start to rise above 50 degrees.

Their asparagus is picked by hand, and is snapped off from the plant instead of being cut away. When you harvest asparagus in such a manner, it naturally breaks off where the tough, fibrous outer layer of the stalk is weakest. This means the asparagus you buy is 100% edible since you don’t have to cut off the bottom inch or two of the woody stalks like you do with conventional blade-harvested asparagus.

The asparagus is picked fresh and then delivered to Wheatsfield the next day. This gives the asparagus an unparalleled freshness and exceptionally good shelf life. Not that there will be any danger of this asparagus sitting around your refrigerator going bad, it’s just too good and will get eaten up in a hurry by any asparagus connoisseur.

About ten years ago I taught a cooking class at Wheatsfield that featured fresh asparagus. Here is a filling, affordable and flavorful recipe I made for that class. In this recipe, the fresh Iowa asparagus shines like the springtime star that it is.

Spaghetti with Shaved Asparagus

12 oz. spaghetti

1 pound asparagus, shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler.

Zest and 1 T. juice from one lemon

4 T. Butter or olive oil

1 oz. shaved parmesan

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta water, drain pasta, and return to pot. Stir in asparagus, butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir in enough of the reserved pasta water to make a thin sauce. Top with parmesan.