Asparagus

Asparagus is one of the first veggies to pop-out of the ground in spring. It’s yummy to eat with your fingers or a fork.

Nutrition: Asparagus is a true food hero. It is the second best whole food source of folic acid, a B vitamin that lowers risk of heart and liver disease. Asparagus contains high amounts of Glutathione, one of the body’s most potent cancer fighters.  Asparagus also contains vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, vitamin A, iron, phosphorus and zinc.

Here are a few pointers on selecting, storing and preparing the freshest and the best tasting asparagus of the season:

At the market: Asparagus comes in three colors.  Green is the most common, white is the most tender but has less flavor; and purple offers a more fruity flavor. Select brightly colored asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips. Choose stalks of similar size so they’ll cook evenly. Avoid yellowed or limp stalks and flowering heads.

Storage at home: Refrigerate asparagus in a covered container or plastic storage bag for up to 3 days.

Preparation: Before cooking, snap off the bottom part of the asparagus stalk.  Simply bend each stalk and it will easily snap. Wash the asparagus spears well in cold water to remove any sand or soil.

Asparagus is best cooked quickly to preserve its bright green color and the healthy nutrients. It is quite versatile and can be prepared many ways, including:

  • STEAMED and served hot with butter and seasoning or a sauce
  • BLANCHED and served cold with a vinaigrette or mustard sauce
  • PUREED to make a delightful soup
  • GRILLED for a wonderful smoky flavor
  • CHOPPED in pieces for stir fries, pasta dishes, omelets/quiches and salads

STEAMED:  Depending on the thickness, a pound of asparagus can be microwaved in 2-3 minutes or steamed on the stovetop in 5-8 minutes. Serve a beautiful plate of steamed asparagus with butter, salt and pepper, fresh herb or garlic butter, or an olive oil and lemon juice mixture. Here are the basic instructions for steaming asparagus:

  • Microwave: Add a few tablespoons of water and well-washed asparagus to a microwave-safe dish and cover. Cook on HIGH for 2-3 minutes.  Let stand for 3 minutes. To test for doneness, the stalk should be bright green and can be pierced with a fork.
  • Stove Top: Add water to the bottom of a pan and place asparagus in a steamer basket above the water.  Bring the water to a boil on HIGH.  Cover a reduce heat to a simmer for 5-8 minutes.  To test for doneness, the stalk should be bright green and can be pierced with a fork.

BLANCHED: This cooking technique will leave asparagus a bit crunchy and vivid bright green.  Bring ½ inch of water to boil in a large skillet.  Place stalks in the boiling water for 1-2 minutes (depending on the thickness). Remove from boiling water and immerse in ice-cold water. Once cold, roll the spears in a clean dish towel to dry them.

Recipe: Asparagus & Hearts of Palm Salad

  • 1 lb fresh asparagus
  • 1 can (14 oz) hearts of palm
  • Classic Dijon vinaigrette (recipe below)

Directions: Blanch asparagus by brining to boil ½ inch of water in a saucepan.  Place asparagus in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, until bright green.  Rinse asparagus in ice -cold water.  Roll asparagus in a clean dish towel to dry. Drain hearts of palm and discard liquid.  Cut hearts of palm lengthwise in quarters.

Arrange asparagus on a plate.  Add hearts of palm on top.  Sprinkle roasted peppers on top.  Drizzle with dressing. Makes 6 servings.

Classic Dijon vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Wisk all ingredients together.

PUREED:  Here is a simple example of a creamy puree of asparagus — a delicious soup.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of asparagus, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence
  • 1 cup milk or Half-n-Half
  • 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Over medium heat, add oil, celery and onions to a large soup pot. Saute until soft. Add asparagus, potato, Herbs de Provence and soup stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Puree soup until smooth with a stick blender, food processor or blender. Stir in milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

GRILLED: It’s spring and time to get your grill out! Many vegetables are delicious cooked on the BBQ and asparagus is no exception.  A grill pan or grill basket specially made for the BBQ is a nice investment and makes grilling veggies a snap.

If you don’t have a grill pan or basket, you use bamboo skewers to pin the stalks together and make “rafts.” These rafts will prevent the spears from falling through the grill.  Simply brush stalks/rafts with olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes, turning at least once.  Enjoy!

Teething toddler? Frozen, cooked asparagus spears make a soothing teether.

Here are a few easy ideas to add asparagus in your meals:

  1. Add one cup of cooked, pureed asparagus to your favorites creamy dip recipe. Serve blanched asparagus on your crudité platter with other veggies.
  2. Try cooked chopped asparagus in egg dishes. Perhaps as a filling for omelets, scrambled in eggs, or added to your favorite quiche recipe.
  3. As a side dish, add cooked, diced asparagus to rice or couscous.
  4. Chinese stir-fry is better with asparagus. It takes 3-5 minutes to stir-fry asparagus. Replace the broccoli in beef with broccoli with asparagus. Try a scallop, asparagus and bean sprout stir fry, or tofu, asparagus and carrot stir-fry.
  5. Add blanched asparagus to any tossed salad. For a more formal salad, marinate blanched stalks in a vinaigrette dressing for 1-2 hours. Serve on a plate. Garnish with chopped chives and roasted red peppers.
  6. Grilled asparagus is delicious. Select the larger stalks that are less likely fall into the coals. Even better, your kids can help out by skewering the stalks together to form “rafts”. Simply brush stalks/rafts with olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place straight in the grill for about 10 minutes, turning at least once.
  7. Do you have a recipe for zucchini bread? Try replacing shredded asparagus for zucchini in the recipe!