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Fresh Asparagus This Spring

Posted: April 14, 2012

Asparagus is one of the first crops available in early spring. It was initially recognized for its medicinal uses, similarly to some of its relatives (garlic and onions).

Originally used by ancient Greeks and Romans to relieve toothaches and prevent bee stings, today asparagus is used as a diuretic and a laxative. 


     According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, green asparagus is a good source of vitamin C, and folacin, and contains moderate amounts of vitamin A, E, potassium and small amounts of iron. Fresh cooked spears also contain lots of fiber and are low in calories and sodium. White asparagus has lower vitamin contents than the green variety. 


     Choose asparagus with closed, compact tips. Open tips are an indication that the asparagus are over-mature. Avoid spears whose stem ends look dry. The stalks should be straight, firm, and brightly colored. Contrary to popular belief, thick asparagus (spears larger than a half-inch in diameter) is more tender and higher in soluble fiber and vitamins than thin asparagus. To find the tender tip, snap the spear between your hands and it will naturally break off at the lower woody part of the spear.


     The best way to store fresh asparagus is to keep it cold and humid. Refrigerate in a plastic bag. Don't wait too long to enjoy once you bring it home. If they are limp when you're ready to use them, break off the stem ends and stand them upright in cold water for an hour, to make them firm again.


     Asparagus can be steamed and topped with butter or a hollandaise sauce. Or sauté it and toss with pasta and your favorite vegetables. Try chilled, cooked asparagus with your favorite dressings alone or in a salad. For an intense flavor, roast or grill asparagus. First toss the spears in olive oil and salt. Then bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit or grill until the spears are just tender (10 minutes).
   

Below is an asparagus appetizer recipe you can try.
   
Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
1 pound fresh asparagus
8 to 10 strips bacon


     Wash and trim asparagus spears. Cut bacon strips in half crosswise. Wrap one-half strip bacon around each asparagus spear, leaving tip and end exposed. Lay on a cookie sheet with sides. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until bacon is cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 16 to 20 spears.
    
Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lackawanna County.