What's In Season: Asparagus

A Cure for Spring Fever Cooking

What's In Season: Asparagus

A Cure for Spring Fever Cooking

The first harbinger of spring ingredients is always asparagus.  Okay, they're not yet local but from the west coast; at least they've been grown in our hemisphere.  Seeing asparagus stacked in our produce markets is like opening the gates to artichokes, ramps, mangoes, and fava beans tumbling in behind them.

Buying and Prepping Asparagus

While our first spring asparagus usually comes from California, as warmer weather arrives, we also get ones grown in Michigan and Washington, and of course, our lovely local crops.  Buy stalks that are firm, stiff, and vivid green with little touches of purple.  Make sure the tips are crisp and not in any way wet or slimy.

In the last few years I've noticed a big increase in the supply of really skinny asparagus and there's something so very appealing about them.  Are they the same as their thicker counterparts?  Yes, of course.  A thicker stalk doesn't mean that they're any less tender, but I often find that the thicker ones have tougher skin and so these I always peel.

A popular asparagus trimming trick is to bend the stalks, one by one, until they break, suggesting that this is where the stalk changes from tough to tender.  But I prefer to examine each and cut the stalk at the point where it appears to be tougher because I waste less -- plus, since I'm peeling the stalks, I can see where the texture changes from tough to tender.  I also like to cut the stalks one by one because what may be tough on one won't be on the next so if you just line them all up and make one pass of the knife, you may cut off more than you need to.  Take a little bit more time to do all and this and you'll get a far better result.  Good quality vegetables can be costly so handle them with care and you'll get more value -- and of course, more taste.

Besides being delicious, asparagus is really good for us.  It's high in folic acid, low in calories and sodium, and a good source of fiber, potassium, thiamin and other vitamins and nutrients.  You may be surprised to learn (I was) that it's a member of the lily family, and it's grown in sandy soil which is why you need to really give the tips a good rinse, including a quick immersion in a bowl or sink of cool water.

White asparagus is considered by many to be a delicacy, and in fact, its taste is more subtle and nuttier than its green version.  And why is it white?  Because it is deprived of light when it is grown and without sunlight, the plant cannot produce green chlorophyll.

Cooking With Asparagus

By the time you run out of ways to put asparagus into your weekday dinners, spring will have moved on to early summer and the next crop of new vegetables will be giving you new inspiration. 





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