Indian River County Extension Service

Judith Wakefield 770-5030

Itís Spring - Enjoy Asparagus

To many people springtime means asparagus is available, preferably growing in a nearby garden. Itís not cold enough here in Florida to grow asparagus but I did get a call one time that an wild asparagus spear was four feet tall and the question was "was it ready to cut yet?" My answer

was "yes, about three feet ago." It does grow up to be a big, feathery, fernlike thing. Now our grocers have vegetables from all over the world, year round, so asparagus availability is no longer confined to the spring. But during the springtime they are more abundant here in the states and what we find in the stores will be fresher and less expensive. Washington State grows a lot of asparagus. When asparagus is shipped from a long distances it can have been cut weeks ago. How it was cared for in the process makes a difference in how good it will be. If not kept cold the sugars in the asparagus will convert and the spear bases will become woody - not what we want.

Referred to as the aristocrat of vegetables and dubbed the "food of kings" by King Louis XIV of France, asparagus has enjoyed an international popularity that continues today.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family and thus closely related to garlic, onions and leeks. Asparagus offers an admirable variety of nutrients. Low in fat and high in fiber, a cup of cooked asparagus provides eighty five percent of the Vitamin C we need for a day, thirty three percent of the Vitamin A and ten percent of the iron. It is also high in rutin, which strengthens the blood vessels.

In stores asparagus should either be refrigerated or displayed on trays with the stalks standing in several inches of cold water. If found in an outdoor market the stalks should be shaded from the sun.

When choosing fresh asparagus, look for firm, straight spears with closed, compact tips. The spears should be a rich green color, and to insure even cooking, purchase spears of similar diameters. Early season asparagus may have a slight purple tinge, but will turn a rich green when cooked. One pound usually contains sixteen to twenty stalks.

Personal preference abounds and some people prefer very thin asparagus while others prefer the thicker stalks. Size is not directly related to quality, but stalks that measure at least Ĺ inch in diameter at the base are usually preferable. Asparagus is usually sold in bundles, but if you can buy it loose, select spears of uniform size, which will cook evenly. When deciding on quantity, remember that asparagus loses about half of its total weight once itís been trimmed and cooked. Buy at least Ĺ pound per person.

When you get home with asparagus keep it cold to preserve its tenderness and as much of its natural sweetness and vitamin C as possible. You can trim a slice off the base of each stalk and wrap a damp paper towel around the base and store the asparagus in a seal plastic bag in the refrigerator. When kept at room temperature, asparagus loses roughly half of its vitamin content within 2 days.

When you are ready to use the asparagus wash it in cool running water. To trim asparagus before cooking, hold a spear in both hands, closer to the tough woody end than to the tip. Bend the stalk until it snaps. It will naturally snap at the place where the asparagus begins to turn woody. If you snap off the woody end it shouldnít be necessary to peel asparagus unless itís especially thick. The trimmings can be thrown into soups, stocks or broths.

 

The key to preparation of asparagus is to never overcook it. Asparagus is most flavorful when cooked quickly until crisp-tender. Whether steamed, simmered, boiled, or microwaved, asparagus should be cooked just until bright green for the best flavor, texture and nutritional value

When boiling asparagus, add the spears to boiling water and simmer gently for 3 to 5 minutes. If cooking the spears whole a skillet works well, you donít have to have a special pan. To steam asparagus, stand spears upright with the tips extending out of the water, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes. In a microwave oven, cooking asparagus is a snap! Place the spears in a nonmetallic dish with 1/4 cup water. Cover the dish tightly and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, turning once. You can serve asparagus hot or cold with light seasonings such as lemon juice, a herb vinaigrette, a yogurt dressing or a light mustard sauce.

Stir frying is another popular way to prepare asparagus. Cut the spears diagonally into 1 to 2 inch pieces; add to a small amount of butter or oil over medium-high heat. Cook, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Asparagus can even be dipped in a batter and French-fried!

You can also roast asparagus with a bit of olive oil, in a 450 degree oven and serve it drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

In addition, asparagus can also be eaten raw with a dip like a lot of other fresh vegetables.

Versatile asparagus is a very enjoyable sign of spring - which is especially nice in this part of the country where we donít have other spring indicators like Dogwood or Redbud trees. Itís easy to prepare and delicious to eat..

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