The vegetable world’s herald of spring is fresh asparagus and one of my all-time favorite vegetables. Spring is peak season when asparagus is most abundant and the best price. Considered a delicacy since ancient times, asparagus has many health benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, provides antioxidants and is beneficial for digestion.
All About Asparagus and How to Buy It
Asparagus is high in fiber, has 4-5 grams of protein per cup, is high in vitamin C, K, and B vitamins including B1, B2, B5 (pantothenic acid) B6 and B9 (folic acid), and is a good source of niacin, choline (also in the B family) and potassium. Look for smooth, bright green spears with compact tips. Most markets store asparagus in shallow bins of water to keep it hydrated. Look for bundles that are the same in diameter so they will cook at the same rate. One pound of asparagus will generally serve four people as a side dish. A serving is approximately 5 medium spears (except for me!).
Thick or Thin?
It’s up to you. The California Asparagus Commission says that “larger sizes come from younger, more vigorous plants as a rule while the smaller sizes comes from older plants or plants that have been planted closer together than usual.”
How to Store and Prepare Asparagus
Treat asparagus like flowers. Trim the stem (root) ends, stand spears upright in a container with about an inch of water. I used to cover loosely with a plastic bag but the asparagus lasts longer if I don’t cover. Alternatively, wrap stem ends in a damp paper towel and wrap loosely in plastic.
To prepare, snap the tough ends off. They will break at their natural place. If you are doing a lot of asparagus, snap off a few ends, then line the rest up and cut them off with a knife. There is no need to peel asparagus. If you are served peeled asparagus in a restaurant, it’s done for the presentation. Save yourself the time and don’t bother. If you want to, use a vegetable peeler.
White or Green?
White and green are the same plant. When the growing spear breaks through the dirt and meets the sun, it turns green. White asparagus is kept buried or covered so it doesn’t turn green. Some people think it is a delicacy, with a more mild flavor tender stalk. I prefer green spears and it is higher in nutrients than the white.
Cooking and Recipe Ideas
Asparagus cooks quickly. Roast it, steam it, grill it, or stir fry it. Make asparagus soup. Chop and add to an omelet or salad. Blanch spears in boiling water for 1 minute and serve as part of a vegetable platter with dip. Toss chopped, cooked asparagus with pasta, herbs and olive oil. Roll strips of Prosciutto around the spears, roast and sprinkle with Parmesan as a side or appetizer. Make asparagus risotto, one of my favorites.
Here are a few recipe links: