One of the very first signs of Spring in a vegetable garden is the appearance of tender shoots of asparagus. Unfortunately, the season for this herbaceous, flowering perennial plant is very short, just a few weeks or a month, if you’re lucky. Make sure to track down local asparagus from local farmers, friends, and neighbors! Asparagus is low in calories, containing no fat and approximately 35 calories per one-cup serving, and is very low in sodium. It is a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese, and selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. Raw asparagus also ranks highly in vitamins A, B-complex, and C. Homegrown Asparagus
Buying & Storing
When looking for asparagus, seek out firm stalks without wrinkling. Stalks will vary widely in width which is only an indicator of age. Pencil-thin stalks are much younger than thicker stalks. After purchasing asparagus, wrap in a damp cloth and store in the vegetable/crisper drawer, or, bundle spears with a rubber band and place upright with the cut ends in a container with an inch of water. This will keep the spears vital until you can use them. Refrigerate immediately and use as soon as possible as asparagus’s sugars will turn rapidly to starches, reducing flavor quickly. Asparagus can also be pickled and stored for several years.
Preparation – rinse the spears in cold water, dry, and cut or snap off the bottoms of each spear. Snapping the base is a technique used to remove the woody part of the asparagus as the spear will snap where the asparagus turns from tender to woody. Just bend the spear near the base and you should be able to snap it pretty easily, no knife required. White asparagus must be peeled before cooking.
Raw – asparagus can be eaten raw and is delicious chopped and put on salads. Asparagus goes well with parsley, tarragon, soy sauce, sesame, garlic, ginger, lemon, cream, eggs, Parmesan (or other hard, salty cheeses), and butter—lots and lots of butter.
Blanch & Shock – boil water using an electric kettle, stove-top kettle, or in a pot on the stove with some salt. Place spears in a bowl, saucepan, or baking dish and cover with boiling water. Let the spears sit in the water for 2-5 minutes. 2 minutes for super-thin spears and 5 minutes for thick spears. Asparagus should be tender and bright green when it’s ready. At that point, strain asparagus and run under cold water or submerge in ice water to halt the cooking process. This is called shocking. The entire process of blanching is used to reduce the loss of quality over time while maintaining flavor, color, and nutritional value.
Steam – use a steamer basket in a tall pot. Put about an inch of water in the pot and bring it to a boil. Place the asparagus upright in the pot and put the lid back on. Steam asparagus for 10 minutes or until tender (depends on thickness). You can also steam asparagus on its side if you don’t have a tall pot, but it can cook unevenly so just be careful and rearrange the spears every so often with tongs to prevent the ones on the bottom from getting overcooked.
Sauté – heat a tablespoon of oil or grease (bacon fat works very well) in a skillet or sauté pan. Place whole spears (this will require a wider pan) or cut asparagus in the pan once the oil is hot. Sauté the asparagus until tender.
Roast – arrange spears on a baking sheet (spread them out in a single layer), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven until the skin starts to crisp and appears slightly shriveled. At 500°F this will only take about 6-8 minutes. Increase the cooking time if you’re roasting at 450°F or 475°F. Sprinkle with lemon juice before serving. Serve hot or cold.