Magazine article Sunset

Purple Asparagus

Magazine article Sunset

Purple Asparagus

Article excerpt

A NOT-SO-NEW newcomer in many produce stores and supermarkets is eye-catching purple asparagus. These tinted spears join an expanding number of green purple vegetables, like broccoli, green beans, and bell peppers, which were once quite common but fell out of fashion for many years.

Sightings of purple asparagus in Italy prompted Brian Benson, a West Coast plant scientist, to develop Viola asparagus; Purple Passion, the first variety, is now grown in California's Central Valley. Harvest begins at the end of February and ends in May.

To keep the purple in asparagus, 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--a bit extravagant, because you pay a premium for the purple. Dishes that maximize purple asparagus's color maximize its value, as in the purple, white, and green asparagus platter and the citrus salad. How about flavor and texture? Several members of a Sunset taste panel rated purple asparagus as slightly sweeter and a little more tender than its green and white counterparts; others found all the asparagus comparable. Tricolor Asparagus with Garlic Streusel

12 thick white asparagus spears (about 1 lb. total), rinsed

12 thick purple asparagus spears (about 1 lb. total), rinsed

12 thick green asparagus spears (about 1 lb. total, or use 2 lb. total purple asparagus)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Garlic streusel (recipe follows)

Salt and pepper

Remove and discard tough ends of white, purple, and green asparagus; cut spears all the same length (save scraps for soups or salads). For sweetest flavor and tenderest texture, peel white and green spears with a vegetable peeler. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, bring about 1 inch water to a boil over high heat. Add white spears to boiling water. Cook, uncovered, until asparagus is just tender when pierced, about 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon; immerse in ice water.

In the same pan (add water if needed to maintain a 1-in. depth), cook green asparagus (or 1/2 the purple spears, if using only purple asparagus; color will turn green) just until tender when pierced, about 4 minutes. Transfer to ice water.

In the same pan (add water if needed to maintain a 1-in. depth), return water to a boil and add vinegar. Cook purple asparagus just until tender when pierced, about 4 minutes. Put in ice water.

Group spears by color on a large platter. Serve cold or hot; if making ahead, chill airtight up to 1 day. …

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