Mid-spring is prime harvest season for asparagus in the Hudson Valley, and local restaurants and residents alike are taking advantage of the abundance of this tasty vegetable. Not only are the vivid green spears powerful in both color and flavor, they also give your body a boost of folic acid; potassium; vitamins A, C, and B6; and fiber. Early Native Americans used asparagus for medicinal purposes, including as a remedy for kidney and bladder problems (dried asparagus is a natural diuretic).
Not only is asparagus healthful and delicious; the plant itself is somewhat extraordinary. The spears can grow up to 10 inches in a 24-hour period, and the plants (which are part of the lily family) can produce for up to 15 years without being replanted. After harvesting, the spears grow into attractive ferns with red berries that retain food and nutrients for the following year’s harvest.
Local chefs are well-versed in the many ways this popular plant can be prepared. Marcus Guiliano of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville always keeps a few asparagus dishes on his menu. “Everyone knows asparagus, and it’s delicious in every form,” he says. “We currently have a grilled asparagus with pine nuts and garlic, and we also include it in one of our steak dishes.
“We also include a raw version, just because it has so many healthful active enzymes in that form,” Guiliano continues. “The health benefits are just astonishing; it’s a phenomenal superfood, and it’s delicious no matter what you do with it.”
Megan Fells, chef at the Artist’s Palate in Poughkeepsie, agrees. “I love asparagus because it’s such a versatile vegetable,” Fells says. “It can be used in salads, soups, as a side dish for meats, and in tarts and soufflés. One of my favorite is as a mock pasta — you can grill up slices of the spears and mix them with extra virgin olive oil for a flavor that really pops.”
At one time, the Valley Restaurant at the Garrison showcased just-picked asparagus grown on its own two-acre farm. Sadly, that is no longer the case: The crop is hard to establish, says co-chef Brandon Collins, a factor that made it too arduous a task for farmers at the Garrison Farm to continue cultivating it in their fields. “It takes around two to three years for the plants to get going,” Collins says. “After that initial period, they produce for a long time, but it’s just so difficult to get them started.”
The Valley now gets its asparagus from local farms, but that hasn’t changed the way Collins serves up the sumptuous spears. “We usually try to run a blanched asparagus salad with a bacon vinaigrette and bleu cheese,” he says. “It’s really popular with the customers, and blanching is my favorite way to serve the vegetable. We also usually include it in our veggie plate with other local produce.
“The best part about in-season asparagus is the way it tastes,” Collins continues enthusiastically. “When you get it off-season it has a rather bitter flavor, but locally grown, in-season asparagus can be really sweet and fruity — almost like an apple.”
This flan makes a great side dish for fish. It can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Aroma Thyme Bistro is a “Best of the Hudson Valley” winner! Check out our Best of the Hudson Valley feature, read our exclusive Aroma Thyme restaurant review, or catch up on them as part of our “Best New Restaurants.”