Blogs, Twitter accounts and Pinterest boards are just starting to fill up with mentions of this spring staple. One of the surest signs that spring has arrived is when the first stalks appear at farmers markets and on seasonal restaurant menus.
In Season: Asparagus
Like tomatoes, asparagus is one of those produce items that I generally only eat when it is in season. Not only is it less expensive and more readily available in the spring months, but it also tastes infinitely better when it comes from a local farm versus when it is shipped from thousands of miles away.
If you've grown asparagus, you know that it is a wondrous little plant. Under ideal conditions, asparagus spears can grow up to 10 inches in just 24 hours. Once the temperatures become warmer in the late spring, the same asparagus crown can produce four to seven spears a week. Asparagus is also an extremely nutrient-dense food. It is very high in folic acid, iron and vitamins A and K. Additionally, it is very high in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, which effectively combat health issues like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Green asparagus is the most common type of asparagus found in the U.S. White asparagus, which is usually sold preserved in cans or jars, is much less common. The white color is achieved when dirt is piled on the shoots just when they break ground and then shoots continue growing beneath the earth. The lack of sunlight results in white asparagus shoots. Asparagus also can be purple in color. This type of asparagus tends to be a little sweeter than the other variety.
How to select, store and prepare asparagus
Look for asparagus that is thin and firm, with tightly closed tips. It is OK for the base to be a little woody, as that keeps the asparagus from drying out and will be cut off before cooking anyway.
Store asparagus wrapped in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for up to four days. As with almost all fresh fruits and vegetables, it is, of course, best when eaten immediately after purchase.
Right before you are ready to use the asparagus, snap off the woody bottom third of the stalk. The best way to find the breaking point is to hold the asparagus ends with both hands and bend the stalk until it snaps. It will break in just the right place, and you can use that piece as a measure when trimming the remainder of the bunch.
In many cases, fresh asparagus is thin and tender and does not warrant any peeling. If the stalk is a little woody and fibrous, use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel the outer layer of the stalk, stopping before you hit the tip of the asparagus.
Ways to enjoy asparagus
Elegant asparagus salad with prosciutto and poached egg
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More asparagus recipes