Featured food: asparagus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpring is asparagus season.  The characteristic green stalks emerge from ‘crowns’ of this lily family plant which overwinter in the ground.  Asparagus can be harvested for several weeks, before the stalks mature into inedible ferny branches.  Originally grown around the Mediterranean region, asparagus spread to Northern Europe and the Western Hemisphere, as people developed a taste for it.

Nutritional benefits of asparagus:

  • Low calorie: one 9 to 10-inch spear of raw asparagus as 5 calories.
  • significant fiber
  • no fat or sodium
  • significant potassium, folate, vitamin A, iron and vitamin K

How to eat asparagus:

  • Raw.  Rinse off some spears and enjoy.   The tips are the tastiest.  The stalks get progressively more tough towards the bottom.  Use in salads, or just for a snack.
  • Steamed or boiled: this traditional cooking method works OK, but you can end up with overcooked tops while the bottoms are still undercooked.  Some cooks recommend peeling the lower part of the stalk with a vegetable peeler before cooking, to prevent that from happening.
  • Roasted: this is my favorite because it’s easy and pretty foolproof.  Cut off the tougher lower ends of the stalks and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped garlic or shallots.  Roast for about 15 minutes at 375 – 400 F (depending on the size of the stalks) until tender.  Stir them around after the first 5 minutes to coat with oil.
  • Use cooked asparagus in casseroles and pasta dishes.  It goes well with a simple pasta tossed with olive oil, parmesan, a bit of lemon juice and chopped tomatoes.  Or add to risotto.
  • Calories not an issue?  Asparagus with hollandaise is a delicious indulgence.

Green asparagus is the most common, but there are other color varieties, such as white and purple.  Stalks also vary in thickness.  Extremely thin asparagus spears are available, but I find them to be tasteless and to cook unevenly.   For more tips and recipes check out :

Washington Asparagus Commission

Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board

California Asparagus Commission

 

 

 

 

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