Smells like asparagus season

Henri has some special recipes for the springtime veggie

Aspara-good for you
• Asparagus is a member of the Lily family.
• Under ideal conditions, an asparagus stalk can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period.
• The larger the diameter of the stalk, the better the quality.
• Asparagus is high in folic acid, and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamins B6, A and C as well as thiamin.
• Asparagus has no fat or cholesterol, and is low in sodium.

I was devastated. Completely humiliated. We had just finished a delightful spring meal in my apartment in the Village and should have been basking in the afterglow of the good food and wine. Instead, L. turned on me.

“What?” I said, incredulous.

“I’m sorry, but, well, it does.”

“My pee smells bad?”

L. shrugged. “It’s no big deal. It’s just the asparagus.”

“It’s the what?”

“Look. You’re not the first.”

Oh, kill me right now.

“A lot of guys’ pee smells after they eat asparagus.”

I couldn’t take any more. “You should leave,” I said, pouring the last of the wine into my glass.

L. nodded, turned, and headed for the door.

I repaired to the living room and lay down on the couch, a moistened dish towel across my forehead.

Of course, that was several years ago, long before my arrival in Chico and, as it turned out, I overreacted.

Asparagus, Henri has since learned, contains certain chemical compounds that break down into amino acids during digestion and cause urine to take on a sulfurous odor. And while researchers aren’t sure exactly why, apparently not everyone’s body is genetically wired to react in the same way—to the asparagus and the odor. Some people’s bodies produce the odor, and some don’t. Some people can detect the odor, and some can’t.

Which, of course, explains our little contretemps back in the Village. Henri is programmed to produce the odor, L. to detect it.

Apologies for the perhaps inappropriate digression, but Henri’s been thinking about asparagus lately. After all, it’s the height of the season. In the Bourride alphabet, A is for April and asparagus. It’s springtime, and asparagus is delicious, inexpensive and ubiquitous.

It’s also an excellent source of nutrients and vitamins, as well as quick and easy to prepare. The following are a few of Henri’s favorite asparagus recipes. The first two make for delicious side dishes. The third is a meal in itself—serve it with a pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. All are perfect for potlucks.

Note: 1) For cooked asparagus, you should use spears that are at least a quarter inch at the base—it’s too easy to overcook the very thin ones. 2) Before cooking, cut the bottom inch or so off each spear. 3) When cutting into bite-sized pieces to cook, slice the spears diagonally.

Stove-top asparagus with red bell peppers, capers and feta

Cut a medium red bell pepper into bite-sized pieces, and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil until soft—8 to 10 minutes. Place in bowl and cover with damp dish towel. Add 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine to the pan, and cook asparagus, turning with a pair of tongs, until crisp and bright green. Remove and place on serving platter, and top with bell pepper pieces. Sprinkle a half- to 1/4-cup of feta over the peppers, and then top with 1 tablespoon of capers.

Grilled asparagus with pine nuts and balsamic vinegar

Cut 1 pound of asparagus into bite-sized pieces and place in large bowl. Mix together 1/4-cup olive oil and 1/4-cup balsamic vinegar, pour over the asparagus and toss. Grill in a squared, angle-sided grill-top pan ($12.99 at Collier Kitchen Supply), tossing occasionally, until bright green. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of finely diced fresh mint leaves and 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts.

Pasta salad with asparagus and tofu

Cut 1 pound of asparagus spears into 1-inch-by-1/2-inch sliced pieces. Cook in boiling water until tender (4 to 5 minutes). Transfer asparagus to bowl of ice water. When cool, place on dish towel or paper towel to drain. Add 6 ounces dry pasta (penne, bowtie, etc.) to boiling water. When done, drain and rinse pasta with cold water. Mix pasta and asparagus in a large bowl, and a 1/2-pound of tofu cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with the following. Dressing: Mix together 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 teaspoons minced basil, 1 teaspoon minced oregano, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon Sierra Nevada Pale Ale mustard, 2 cloves pressed garlic.