It's National Asparagus Month!
Posted: June 29, 2012
In our area asparagus is one of the first garden vegetables we see at Farmer’s Markets and is a sure sign that more are to follow. As a child I only liked asparagus if it was smothered in cheese sauce and served on toast, but over the years have come to appreciate its flavor especially when freshly harvested.
I know that this can be a vegetable that requires much garden prep work to get started, but I have had a little patch in my flower bed now for about 15 years that came about quite by accident. When we were selling my parent’s house I dug up a lot of the perennials my Father had in his flower beds and I by chance managed to include some asparagus. I was very surprised the following spring when I noticed the shoots breaking ground and have been enjoying them ever since. I only ever get a few stalks at a time so I have to save them up for a meal but it is worth it.
I think for many this vegetable is an acquired taste but luckily, it is versatile in how it can be prepared and consumed and introduced into meals. It can also be preserved if you are lucky enough to have a lot on hand. You can can it, but since it is a low acid food it must be pressure canned for safety. Many people prefer to freeze asparagus as it retains more of that fresh taste and look. For best quality the spears should be cleaned and scales removed then blanched for 2 to 4 minutes depending on the size of the spear after which they are quickly cooled in ice water, drained, dried and pack-aged in a freezer container with no headspace. They can also be pickled and water bath canned or dehydrated. I had some dehydrated asparagus spears for the first time last year and when mixed with other types of dried vegetables and nuts they are a very tasty snack.
From a nutritional perspective this vegetable packs a big punch! It is very low in calories, provided you don’t drown it in cheese sauce, about 20 calories per half cup. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and potassium – definitely what would be called a nutrient dense food.
If you don’t have your own asparagus patch and will be purchasing from your local Farmer’s Market or grocery store, then choose stalks that are firm, straight, and smooth with tightly closed tips. Avoid spears with wrinkled stalks and wilted tips or stalks that are too thin. If the stalks seem thick don’t avoid just peel them and cook as you normally would. Once you have it home keep it cold and covered. Trim the stem ends about ¼ inch and wash in warm water several times. Pat the stalks dry and place in moisture-proof wrapping, refrigerate then use in 2-3 days for best quality. To better maintain freshness wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends and stand upright in a couple of inches of water.
It is best to cook asparagus upright if you can in a pan or steamer. The stalk ends which are thicker can sit in the water while the tenderer and delicate tips will be steamed. Bundling them together also helps if you don’t have an asparagus cooking pot. One method recommends standing the stalks in 3 inches of boiling water, cover the pan and cook for 8 minutes or until tender crisp.
I have never had white asparagus, but people say it has a milder flavor and is a little more tender. It gets its white color through a process called etiolation, which is the depravation of light. Dirt is mounded around the stalk as it grows to prevent exposure to sun and as a result it does not produce chlorophyll which gives the plant its green color.
Here is a quick and easy recipe from the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website that everyone should love. For more recipes you can visit their recipe finder website. Enjoy!
Asparagus with Lemon Sauce (serves 4)
- 20 medium asparagus stalks, rinsed and trimmed
- 1 fresh lemon
- 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise, fat free
- 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1/8 tsp. black pepper
- 1/16 tsp. salt
- Place 1 inch of water in a 4-quart saucepan with lid
- Place a steamer basket inside pot and add asparagus. Cover and bring to boil over high heat.
- Reduce to medium heat and cook for an additional 5 minutes (until asparagus is easily pierced with a sharp knife).
- While asparagus cooks, grate lemon zest into a small bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press out extra juice and remove pits. Add mayonnaise, parsley, pepper and salt. Stir well and set aside.
- When the asparagus is tender, remove form pot. Place asparagus in serving bowl. Drizzle lemon sauce evenly over the asparagus. Serve
Nutritional Information – 25 calories, 0 gm fat, 5 gm carbohydrate, 2 gm fiber and 100 mg sodium.