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Springtime is prime time for asparagus in the Las Vegas Valley

Updated May 8, 2019 - 12:04 am

Springtime is prime time for asparagus in local markets, restaurants and at Gilcrease Orchard in the northern part of the valley.

“I’ve got tons,” said Mark Ruben, orchard director. “It’s actually peak time right now.”

It’s also the beginning of the season for the orchard at 7800 N. Tenaya Way, which this week moves to a schedule of 7 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Ruben said he’s been growing asparagus for about eight years. He planted it because he likes it, and because it would provide an early crop for the orchard.

“It’s one of our best crops,” he said. “It’s got a good taste, very sweet. It likes the high pH soils that we have.” The asparagus is available at the orchard, of course, and at the Fresh 52 Farmers &Artisans Market from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays at Sansone Park Place at 9500 S. Eastern Ave., and from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at Solista Park at Inspirada in Henderson.

John Miranda, chef de cuisine of Twist at the Waldorf Astoria, gets asparagus delivered twice a week from the French region of Provence. He uses both white and green asparagus in a dish he’s featuring on his tasting menu.

“The white is obviously very special,” Miranda said. “I have it once a year for about two months, April and May.” White asparagus is virtually the same as the green variety, but it’s covered with soil or other material while it grows, to block the sun and the development of chlorophyll.

“A lot of places grow white asparagus, but in Provence, they like to talk about their sandy soils and the sweetness that comes along with it,” he said. The asparagus Miranda orders is quite large, even though he doesn’t get the largest available.

“I usually don’t see them domestically big,” he said. “It’s something that Europeans are used to seeing that we don’t see here. It’s something Mr. Gagnaire (Pierre Gagnaire, executive chef) likes to express in his restaurants, large and white. It’s full of flavor.”

Green asparagus, he said, is “more earthy.” For the course on the tasting menu, he makes a puree of green asparagus and creme fraiche. Atop that goes haricots verts (skinny French green beans) with tiny shrimp and broiled eel. A large spear of white asparagus is laid over that, topped with shaved green asparagus and then ikura, which are salmon eggs. The finishing touch is an ice cream made with white asparagus and tarragon.

“It’s a little sweet,” he said of the ice cream, “and the tarragon gives it a little kick.”

At Eataly’s Manzo at Park MGM, executive chef Arnold Corpuz uses white and green asparagus, which he gets from a California family farm, in his Insalata Primavera. He blanches the white in citrus water with sugar to tame any bitterness, then cuts it in 2- to 3-inch pieces and folds it with haricots verts, sugar snap peas and a yuzu-basil vinaigrette, finishing with a little basil, some cherry tomatoes and black, Easter Egg and watermelon radishes.

For a side dish, he’ll marinate asparagus in a preserved-lemon vinaigrette, char it on the grill and finish it with ricotta salata and crispy Prosciutto di Parma.

“I love asparagus,” Miranda said. “It’s just so universal; you can do anything with it.”

The staff at The Factory Kitchen at The Venetian expected the season’s first shipment of white asparagus over the weekend. Angelo Auriana, chef and partner of Factory Place Hospitality Group, said it comes from the Netherlands.

“They are nice jumbo, extra-large, so they’re very meaty,” he said. “If you cook them right and give them a little acidity, it makes them sweeter than the green.”

He plans to serve them with a poached egg.

“It’s really a quintessential combination,” Auriana said. “And brown butter. We also make a beautiful mushroom sauce. We’re thinking of doing it for a main dish instead of a side. It’s a complete array of flavor that makes for a special dish.”

Christopher Johns, executive chef at the South Point, gets a little whimsical when remembering the asparagus of his younger days.

“When I worked in England, asparagus was always a seasonal vegetable,” he said, noting that differing growing seasons around the world have extended its availability. “We used to get it when it was fresh and still moist. When it’s freshly cut and we get it, it’s really good and tender.”

Johns said he features a chicken and asparagus stir-fry on the South Point’s buffet. He also likes to bake asparagus en papillote — in an envelope of parchment paper — with or without salmon, “with a little white wine, a very thin slice of fresh ginger, a little salt and white pepper. The moisture steams up and makes like a pillow effect. When you open it, it’s a ‘wow’ effect to many people who’ve never seen it.”

He’ll also grill it, and sometimes serve it with shrimp. Or toss it with lemon-infused pasta. Or just poach it and serve with Hollandaise or a light butter dipping sauce.

“I just like asparagus,” he said. “Especially when you can get it really fresh. No matter what they say, when it’s imported from South America, it’s going to deteriorate.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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