Asparagus Is in Season – Make the Most of It

asparagus spears

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that just has to be eaten fresh to get the full flavor because when it is canned it turns into insipid mush. It begins to hit the market around the first of February and disappears in June, with the peak coming in April. It’s a great time to enjoy this great vegetable, whether you are serving it to 500 guests a day or just the family.

Asparagus Nutrition

Asparagus has an abundance of heart-healthy nutrients. It’s full of folate, which not only helps your hear but also helps the cells of your body regenerate. It contains vitamins A, C, and E which are antioxidants that help fight cancer, cataracts, and other results of free radicals in the body. Generous amounts of potassium helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. All of this nutrition is contained in just half a cup of the vegetable.

That half cup of asparagus is a skinny, little 22 calories and also provides fiber and a small amount of protein.

Choosing the Freshest Asparagus

Look for bright green stalks with firm stalks. The buds on the end should be firm, tight, and may have a purplish cast. Rejects stalks that are limp or look shriveled.

Storing Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus doesn’t keep very long — you’ll want to prepare and serve it within a few days of purchase. Although you can store it in the vegetable bin it’s better to trim the ends, stand the stalks in a glass of water, and keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic. Use it within two days.

Cooking Fresh Asparagus

Asparagus is delicate and it is ruined by over-cooking it and turning it to mush. It has a sweet, nutty flavor that is best when it is cooked until just crisp – tender. Boiling, steaming, microwaving, and roasting or grilling are all excellent ways to prepare this vegetable.

Boiling 

To boil fresh asparagus, tie the stalks together with twine and stand the bundle upright in a pot, keeping the tips just above the water line. Simmer until just barely tender.

Roasting

Roasting vegetables is easy and it brings out more flavor because the technique caramelizes the sugars in the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 425F. While it is preheating trim a half-inch or so off the bottom of the asparagus. Drizzle it with olive oil and then mix gently with your hands so that the vegetables are coated in oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a pinch of chipotle, or whatever you happen  like. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until tender.

Grilling

Grilling the asparagus brings out a smoky flavo—r that is hard to beat. You’ll heat the grill up to high and prepare the asparagus in the same way as you did for roasting. Using fatter spears will keep it from falling through the grate. Turn it often and don’t be afraid to let it blacken and caramelize. This will bring out the most flavor.

Microwaving

Cooking asparagus in the microwave is a quick and easy way to fix it. Place two or three tablespoons of water in a round baking dish. Place the asparagus in a circle with the tips pointing to the center of the dish. Cover and cook on high for abut 10  minutes, checking it often.

Serving Asparagus

Asparagus is delicious with a little butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, or a creamy sauce over the top of it. It is a fabulous addition to dishes like Pasta Primavera, as well. Some ways to set your dish apart are —

  • Wrap bundles of 6 stalks in bacon an secure with a toothpick before roasting.
  • Serve with a classic Hollandaise sauce.
  • Make cream of asparagus soup
  • Steam it in white wine

It’s All about Timing

Utilize fresh vegetables in season when they are at the peak of flavor. By using high quality foods you can keep the preparation very simple and rely on the intense flavors to carry the dish.

photo credit: neil conway via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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