Did you know that there is such a thing as a crayon with the name “asparagus”? I learned this surprising factoid while I was reading the section on asparagus in Deborah Madison’s absolutely wonderful Vegetable Literacy. Sure enough, when I looked it up on Crayola’s website, there it was, a member of the green hue family, introduced in 1993.
Then I ran across a different website, one that included a posting called “10 Worst Crayola Crayon Colors.” Guess which color was #6 on the list, sandwiched in between bittersweet and manatee? Yes, it was asparagus. Apparently, this color made the list because the author of the post thinks that kids don’t get excited about vegetables, especially one “that makes your pee smell funny.”
Au contraire! I beg to differ. I think that kids get excited about asparagus precisely because it makes your pee smell funny. I speak from experience. My younger daughter thinks this particular quality of asparagus is hysterical. Sometimes, when I serve it for dinner, it’s the first thing she comments on. And then she scarfs it down.
So the question is whether you, the parent, can use this information to your advantage. Let’s say that you decide to serve asparagus one night for dinner. Your child, taking a sideways look at it and seeing something green on the plate, instantly decides to ignore it as if it’s a magical vegetable visible only to parents.
Now, assume you happen to make an offhanded comment about asparagus having the surprising ability to change the smell of one’s pee. (Yes, I know. This is not my first choice for a dinnertime conversation either, but hear me out. There is a method to my madness.) I’m guessing that if your child is elementary- or even middle-school aged, there’s a good chance that he or she will eat it if only to test the accuracy of your comment. When that happens, I give you full permission to silently bask in your cleverness, since isn’t getting a kid just to try something green nine-tenths of the battle anyway?
A couple of thoughts before you decide to test my hypothesis —
First, not everyone can detect the smell produced by asparagus. Apparently, this is due to genetic differences in the ability to perceive that odor. If your child has the good fortune (or misfortune, depending on your perspective) to lack the necessary genes, you may have to find another way to extol asparagus’ virtues.
Second, I freely acknowledge that not every child will fall for this kind of perfectly acceptable parental manipulation. For example, if I had tested my hypothesis on my older daughter when she was younger, I’m sure that she would have both ignored my comment and silently lamented her being born into a family with such an aberrant parental figure. My younger daughter, on the hand, if she hadn’t already discovered this quirk of asparagus on her own, would have taken the bait with unbridled enthusiasm.
To get you started, I’ve provided a recipe for an easy springtime hard-boiled egg and asparagus salad that you and your kids will love. It’s based on one by Martha Rose Shulman that appeared six years ago in the New York Times. I’ve tried to make it a little more user-friendly. For example, her version has you steaming the asparagus, while mine instructs you to roast it. (I find that it is harder to overcook asparagus when you roast it.) I’ve also made it a little more kid-friendly by replacing the parsley and capers with some shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Most interestingly, after the finished salad sits for a few minutes, the egg yolks start to dissolve in the lemon juice-based vinaigrette, creating a mayonnaise-like creaminess but without the mayonnaise.
So, tonight, at dinner, you have both the opportunity and the means to convince your child that there’s a benefit to eating asparagus. You just don’t have to agree with your child on what that benefit is.
Asparagus and Egg Salad
The bottom part of most stalks of asparagus tend to be tough and fibrous and are best trimmed and discarded before the asparagus is cooked. Because the point where toughness ends and tenderness begins is not always evident by visual inspection, the best way to do this is to carefully snap off the bottom end of each stalk. In most cases the stalk will break at the appropriate spot. If you trim the asparagus using a knife, you risk leaving behind a less tender, more fibrous portion that will be unpleasant to eat.
1 bunch of asparagus (about 20 ounces or 600 grams)
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, rinsed, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice (approximately 1/2 of a large lemon)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon herb salt (or plain salt)
10 grinds fresh black pepper (or 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper)
1/4 cup (1 ounce or 35 grams) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
1. Trim the asparagus: For each asparagus stalk, you’ll need to remove the tough, fibrous bottom portion from the tender upper portion. The best way to do this is to grasp the bottom end with the thumb and first two fingers of one hand and then position the thumb and first two fingers of the other hand three or four inches above the bottom. Gently bend the stalk until it breaks, which will likely occur at the point whether the stalk becomes tender enough to eat. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Rinse the upper portions in a colander. Discard the bottom portions.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Rinse the trimmed asparagus in a colander and then position them in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with nonstick foil or parchment paper. Lightly brush or spray the asparagus with some olive oil if you prefer. Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks.*
3. After the asparagus has finished roasting, remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk the Dijon mustard and lemon juice together until the mustard has fully dissolved into the vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture, whisking continuously until the oil is fully incorporated and the mixture appears to have thickened slightly. Whisk in the herb salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. After the asparagus has cooled, cut each stalk into 1-inch pieces. Place the asparagus, chopped hard-boiled eggs, and shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a large bowl, add the vinaigrette, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.**
*For example, the thinnest stalks are likely to need no more than 8 minutes in the oven while the very thickest stalks may require 12 minutes. Take care not to overcook the stalks or they will become too soft. It may take some trial and error before you determine the length of time that works for you.
**This salad is best served immediately after it is made. Otherwise, the acid in the lemon juice will start to discolor and soften the asparagus. If you want to make it ahead, you can do everything up to and including placing the asparagus pieces, the chopped hard-boiled eggs, and the shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a bowl, and then cover the bowl with some plastic wrap. When you’re ready to serve, remove the plastic wrap, mix in the vinaigrette, and serve.
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