Heralding the coming of spring, asparagus — available in green, white or purple varieties — is often regarded as a delicacy and depicted as far back as an Egyptian frieze in 3000 B.C. The velvety, water-rich vegetable is also known for its high vitamin and mineral content (B6; C; E; K; calcium; magnesium; zinc; folate; potassium),as a great source of fiber, and for its diuretic properties. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh in season and dried it to enjoy in colder weather, with the Romans said to freeze it high up in the Alps. But how about upping the ante on asparagus appreciation by using it in desserts?!
First, however, in 200 A.D., the ancient Greek physician Galen was known to use asparagus medicinally, and perhaps the earliest record of cooking can be found in the oldest surviving book of recipes: Apicius’ De re coquinaria, Book III, in the third century A.D. In Medieval times, one literary source identified asparagus’ aphrodisiacal qualities. And, utilized as catnip for lovers or not, history tells us it made its way to the U.S. around 1850.
Current nutritionists and health food authorities cite the A-list asparagus’ ability to neutralize ammonia that contributes to fatigue, and say it can protect small blood vessels from rupturing. Its springtime significance is not lost on creative cooks who steam and top coveted spears with traditional lemon and Hollandaise, wrap them in bacon, sauté them in olive oil and garlic, or marinate them in balsamic vinegar — served alongside a tender Easter lamb, of course.
But what about dessert? If it’s time to change up the usual methods of consumption, or perhaps just tempt those picky, prickly little ones to eat their vegetables, these uncommon green treats will do the trick and surely keep them coming back for more — throughout National Asparagus Month and well into the rest of the year!
Asparagus Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese icing
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups grated fresh asparagus (about I lb.), drained
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained
1 to 2 tablespoons grated orange peel
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 pkg. (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 ¾ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, combine first five ingredients. Add oil, eggs, asparagus, pineapple, orange peel, and vanilla; mix well. Fold in pecans. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch fluted tube pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
For icing, beat cream cheese and sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Add orange peel, vanilla, and enough milk until icing reaches desired consistency. Spoon over cake, allowing icing to drip down sides.
Asparagus Ice Cream
7 ounces fresh asparagus
2 cups cream
2/3 cup sugar (divided into 1/3 and 1/3)
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons rum
Juice from one lemon
Mint for garnish
Peel asparagus up to the base of the tips and cut into small pieces. Combine with cream, and half the sugar, and simmer 8 minutes. Beat egg yolks with remaining sugar until foamy. Add to asparagus mixture, puree, and put through a strainer. Stir over ice water until cool. Add rum and lemon juice; freeze in ice cream maker.