Market Matters- Really Purple Asparagus (Really!)

Istalks of purple asparagust’s another busy Sunday. 

And I couldn’t be more pleased! Because this busy Sunday is full of the things I love.

I love tomatoes! I am going to spend some more time today at the Los Angeles Garden Show handing out recipe cards from our TomatoMania contest. It’s such a privilege to be representing all the great bloggers, cooks and gardeners who participated. I can’t wait to get back out there.

I love my friends and I love cooking and entertaining with them. We have a very good friend visiting from New York so we have a casual early Sunday Supper planned.

Then there is what I love most about Sundays. There is the Hollywood Farmers Market and the weekly post I call Market Matters! The market was extra fun this morning because we got to take our houseguest down there with us. It’s like seeing the market through new eyes for me. It really helps me appreciate what a great asset the Farmers Market really is in my life. 

And thanks to my new set of eyes I found something extra special today. I have thick “jumbo” purple asparagus. They are not around very long each spring. Blink and you miss them! So the extra set of eyes was much appreciated!

purple asparagus spearsBut with a busy day planned like this you really got to plan your menu ahead.

So I am falling back on a reliable stand-by. I am making Swordfish Kabobs like I have made here before. This way I can let the fish marinate while we are at the Garden Show. When we get back it won’t take but a few minutes to grill the fish.

I will also have a Purple Asparagus Salad with Orange and Tarragon all prepped. It will only take some last minute assembling. It will be a bright hit of crunchy acidity. A great counterpoint to the luscious swordfish kabobs.

This salad has but a few ingredients. This busy a Sunday requires a simple preparation for the purple asparagus. Plus, I think the simple preparation will really highlight the asparagus and allow us to really appreciate the subtle difference between the purple and green varieties. Because the differences are indeed subtle.

As we discovered in Red is the New Greens a couple months ago, the red and purple varieties have a bit more sugar typically. So I am anxious to see just how pronounced the sweetness is in these purple spears! I read an article in Sunset magazine reporting that the sweetness associated with purple asparagus needs to be highlighted by serving them with bright acidic flavors, otherwise it can get lost.

Speaking of acidity. I also read in Sunset that in order “to keep the purple hue in asparagus” we should “add acid (lemon juice or vinegar) to its cooking water. The acid anchors the red pigment, anthocyanin. If you don’t do this, the color fades to green.”

I just carried these purple asparagus all the way up the hill. So you can bet I want to be assured of serving purple asparagus! So thanks to Sunset for this bit of information. As I write this I have not cooked the asparagus yet, I hope Sunset turns out to be right. Because I also based my salad on one of theirs. 

Purple Asparagus Salad with Orange and Tarragon

  • 2 large (about 1/2 lb. each) oranges
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4‑cup tarragon leaves
  • 12 thick purple asparagus spears (about 1 lb. total), rinsed 
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced into 1/4‑inch rings 
  • Salt and pepper

purple asparagus salad with oranges and tarragonCut and peel the oranges removing as much of the white pith as possible. Working over a bowl, cut between inner membranes and lift out orange sections; place sections in the bowl. This is called “supreme”.

Squeeze juice from membranes into bowl. If preparing ahead, cover and chill up to 6 hours.

To make the dressing add 2 tablespoons of the fresh orange juice to a small bowl (save remainder for other uses). To that bowl, add 1/4‑cup vinegar, sugar (to taste, depending on sweetness of oranges), and tarragon; mix, and then pour into a small pitcher.

In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring about 1 inch water and 1/4 cup vinegar to a boil over high heat. Remove and discard tough ends of the asparagus, but do not peel them. Add spears to boiling water. Cook, uncovered, until asparagus is just tender when pierced, about 4 minutes. Drain and immerse spears in ice water until cold; drain.

Put the red onion slices in a bowl. Using your hands press and squeeze down on the onions to bruise them slightly. Rinse them in water and drain them. Add 4 cups ice cubes, 2 cups water, and the remaining 1/4 red wine vinegar. Let stand until crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain well and discard ice cubes.

Divide crisped onion slices evenly among 4 plates. Arrange asparagus spears and orange segments equally on plates. Add dressing, salt, and pepper to taste.

Or if it’s a busy Sunday, and you are entertaining people you love. Heap it all onto one big serving platter. And enjoy your good fortune…


Greg Henry