Springtime Asparagus Tartine

A native of Los Angeles, I grew up with a rather skewed experience of the seasons. Winter to me was orange, yellow and red tinted leaves that clung to their branches well into December, suburban streets lined with hues that I thought were vibrant until the East Coast taught me otherwise. To my thin California skin, the marked chill of a day that peaked in the low 50s drew my puffy purple jacket out of the closet, which I then layered over a sweatshirt and long sleeved tee. Aside from the eventual trickle of the foliage and its indistinct renewal, seasons in Los Angeles were subtle. The sky grew grey and sometimes poured rain, but the landscape always looked pretty much the same.

My first year in New York was a shock to the system, to say the least. I will never forget how impossibly long that first winter felt—truly, like, It's April, how the hell is it STILL snowing?! It got to a point when I almost couldn't remember the particular sensation of sunshine on skin. But slowly the thaw did come. And slowly, then seemingly all at once, new life began to emerge. In the early stages of spring, the tulips struck me most. Vibrant and elegant, they covered my school's campus, a proclamation of what was just around the bend: a world overcome with rich renewal. For the first time in my life, springtime was more than just a concept, a nondescript string of months between the chill and the heat. Not only could I see spring, I could feel spring in my bones.  

While I no longer reside in a climate with such dramatic shifts, living back East taught me not only to notice the particular markers of springtime but to relish this wondrous time when the world jolts back to life. Even during distinct environmental transition, it is so easy for us not to notice. We live such busy, plugged-in lives that we become disconnected from our surroundings and focus our attention solely on our personal dramas, obligations and narratives. Yet these cycles are not separate from us. They dictate what we eat, what we wear, how we move, when we sleep, how we feel. They provide opportunities for us to turn inwards, to hibernate and reflect and then to turn outwards and grow anew with the world.

While it may be doing so more rapidly in California than in other places at present, the thaw is approaching and new life is beginning to emerge. As beings who not only inhabit this Earth but are connected to it, it serves us to tap into this natural regeneration and use it as momentum within ourselves. The days are getting noticeably longer and new, less hearty and heavy crops are popping up, both of which offer us opportunities for more buoyant and sustained energy. Spring is the perfect time to sow seeds, set intentions and bring new projects and goals into fruition. So, here is my invitation to you: set a springtime intention. Something that will bring you joy, that will help you grow. And then do it. Notice the beauty that is emerging in the natural world around you, harness the energy of that new life, and set something enlivening for yourself in motion.

It's a little crazy that I spent four paragraphs talking about the changing of the seasons with only a fleeting mention of the food that comes with the turn of spring. Living in California, the seasonal transitions are almost marked more by the rotations of produce that adorn farmers' market stalls than by drastic shifts in weather. Each season has its show stoppers, the fruits or vegetables that define a particular time of year. For springtime, it's asparagus. (Okay, and green garlic and probably a few other things, but asparagus is definitely high up on that list.) Some people probably wait all winter long to see those lean, green stalks appear at the market. No offense, but these people seem absolutely nuts to me.

Let's be real: asparagus is a challenging vegetable. It is potent (some may argue pungent) in flavor and scent. I hated it until, um, last year. I still don't love it. But! I have been introduced to methods of preparing asparagus that compliment or mellow its taste in ways that make it palatable if not even, dare I say it, delicious. The most recent method—which was so good that it is now the subject of this post—came by way of my boyfriend, who (conveniently for me) is a pretty spectacular cook. I was decidedly disinterested the evening he excitedly proclaimed he had bought a bunch of asparagus and I remained so when he later departed to the kitchen to turn it into a "snack". Twenty minutes later, drawn to the kitchen by the sweet smell of toasty almonds and browning butter, I found my anti-asparagus resolve melting away. I leaned towards his plate to examine its contents, was offered a bite, and succumbed. I was immediately dumbfounded. Staring at T in disbelief, I demanded to know what he put in that thing to make the asparagus taste so delicious. And then I ate half the food on his plate.

I knew immediately that I needed to share his divine and startlingly simple concoction with you. At the start of spring, so you can make it for yourself and then for your friends and then for your family and then for yourself again, all before the season ends. So, what are we waiting for?

Springtime Asparagus Tartine
Makes four generous tartines

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus (preferably skinny stalks)
1 Tbsp. ghee or butter (sub cold-pressed olive oil if you're vegan)
1/2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or juice from half a lemon)
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 Tbsp. capers (preferably salt preserved), rinsed
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 large slices of fresh, crusty Boule (whole grain blend & sourdough are great), cut in half
salt & pepper, to taste

Method
1. Heat oven or toaster oven to 325°F. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10-12 minutes, tossing halfway through.
2. While the almonds are roasting, prep asparagus. Cut the woody bottom third off all the stalks and discard. Cut the remaining stalks into 1 1/2" segments.
3. When the almonds are toasted, remove from the oven and roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Heat the butter or ghee in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, toss in asparagus, reduce heat to medium low, and sauté, gently stirring, until the spears start to become tender and acquire a bit of color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the asparagus is cooking, brush your bread slices with a bit of olive oil and toast them (or char them on a grill if that's accessible!).
5. Add a generous pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper to the asparagus and stir.
6. Add your glug of white wine or squeeze of lemon juice to deglaze the pan. When stirred, it should emulsify with the oil and create a sauce-like glaze over the asparagus. Taste for doneness; you want the asparagus to be cooked but still have a bit of crunch to it.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss in the capers, minced parsley and chopped almonds. Toss to combine.
8. Pile the asparagus mixture high onto each slice of toast. Enjoy immediately.