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Asparagus, a spring jewel

Although it's not one of Spain's most traditional foods (it is noticeably absent from old cookbooks), white and triguero green asparagus have found their place on the culinary scene and become one of the most-respected products in modern-day cooking.

This vegetable has grown wild since the beginning of time. But eventually man started to plant asparagus, seeking out new ways to improve quality. In ancient times, Egyptians and Greeks appreciated asparagus for its exquisite culinary qualities; but it was the Romans who valued the vegetable the most, for its therapeutic properties and gastronomic possibilities.

"Tasty... though not very nutritious"

Asparagus was essentially forgotten following the decline of the Roman Empire, though it was rediscovered during the Renaissance period for its medicinal purposes. In the 17th century, a Spanish physician by the name of Juan Sorapán de Rieros described it as "tasty, diuretic and easily digestible, though not especially nutritious". However, it wasn't until the 18th century, when the House of Bourbon ascended the Spanish throne, specifically Philip V, that asparagus bounced back with a bang.

Its culinary prestige has been on the rise ever since, and it takes pride of place in many outstanding modern-day recipes. It grows in several regions of Spain, including Andalusia, Aragón, La Rioja, Castile-León, Castile-La Mancha and Madrid, and asparagus from the meadows of Aranjuez (fertile alluvial soils attributable to the Tagus and Jarama Rivers) is especially famous.

But it has been supremely successful in Navarre, the region that has always believed most strongly in this exquisite vegetable, either eaten alone or served with a variety of sauces, or even included in the region's colorful, delicious vegetable medleys, one of the land's greatest culinary contributions. Top-flight asparagus is grown on the banks of the Ebro River and its surrounding areas, a region known as La Ribera.

Asparagus from Navarre has had a quality seal for the last three decades, and whether eaten fresh or from a can, it has a special flavor and smooth texture.All asparagus, both fresh and canned, is subject to strict quality control, which includes specific categories.

April, the best month for asparagus

Although it's available in certain areas in March, the best months for asparagus are April and May.

Wild triguero asparagus is a unique variety with Protected Geographical Indication status in Huétor-Tájar, Andalusia, in the Genil River valley (Granada). It is tender and meaty and very aromatic; some describe the flavor as bittersweet. In Ribera del Duero, asparagus from Tudela (“the other Tudela”) is also very widely known.

ADDRESSES AND TELEPHONE NUMBERS

CASA JOSE. Ctra. de Andalucía 17. Tel. 918 911 488. Aranjuez. Madrid.

MAHER. Ribera, 19. Tel. 948 811 150. Cintruénigo. Navarre.

TREINTAITRÉS. Pablo Sarasate, 7. Tel. 948 826 606. Tudela. Navarre.

VENTA MONCALVILLO. Ctra. Medrano, 6. Tel. 941 444 832. Daroca de Rioja.

MESÓN 2,39. Antonio Machado, 39. Tel. 985 520 239. Tudela de Duero. Valladolid.

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11/12/2014