Oh yes, spring is my favorite season. Calves, lambs, fawns appearing across the fields and, best of all, the asparagus! It starts appearing mid-April and ends in June. As one of the few perennial vegetables, it replants itself for typically 15 years.
Asparagus is delicious but also nutrient-dense. Nutrient density measures vitamins, minerals and fiber as compared to the amount of calories. A cup of asparagus is only about 40 calories and is an excellent source of nutrients, such as vitamin K, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, B6, iron, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium and fiber. And the kicker is that asparagus contains a fiber called inulin, which has prebiotic properties helping to feed gut microbes.
Asparagus is a great source of phytonutrients and contains quercetin, which is linked to reduced cardiovascular disease, as well as saponins, which may positively affect cardiovascular health, immune function and cancer risk. Glutathione is another phytochemical, and it is known as the body’s “master antioxidant, vital for the immune system while protecting cells from oxidative damage.
Asparagus spears grow to full length in just 24 hours. Its fast metabolic rate is one reason why it is best to eat it as soon as possible after purchase (two to five days). Look for firm, smooth, straight and bright green plants (or white or purple if you can find them) with compact tips. Store wrapped in plastic in the fridge. For best results, you can also place them upright in a jar with a little water or wrap the bottom ends in a damp paper towel.
For thick stalks, cut off the bottom inch and use a peeler to peel the bottom half. This can lead to less waste than cutting or breaking off a large portion of the bottom. Asparagus can be roasted, grilled, boiled, steamed, microwaved, pickled or even eaten raw. It is often served with ingredients such as lemon, olive oil, butter, eggs, hollandaise sauce and Parmesan cheese.
Here are several ways to prepare asparagus:
Toss asparagus in olive oil, lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast in the oven, and top with finely shredded Parmesan cheese.Sauté with onion, simmer in broth, then puree for a simple creamy soup.Chop finely, sauté and add to scrambled eggs or an omelet.Add to a stir fry with a variety of spring veggies, soy sauce and garlic.Rinse and trim spears and place in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid; add ¼ cup water and cook on high for 3 to 7 minutes; toss with butter and lemon juice.The season generally lasts four to six weeks. Once harvested, the fibrous vegetable is a low acid item with potential for pathogenic bacterial growth when processed improperly. Vegetables, such as green cucumbers and asparagus do not meet the acidic pH of 4.6 that is required to control growth of pathogenic bacteria, including Clostridium botulinum through processing.
Preservation by pickling describes a food preserved in an acidic brine. Historically, the practice of increasing the acidity of the food has been used for taste quality as well as for safely extending the shelf life of perishable foods. This should be done using an approved recipe, with standard 5 percent acetic acid vinegar.
While asparagus can be found growing wild or neatly bundled in bunches, be sure to enjoy this raw, grilled or sautéed royal vegetable. Seems everyone has the idea this weekend to plant flowers and gardens!
Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-6461.Wendy Rice