It’s asparagus season: The bright green stalks are at their freshest, most flavorful and affordable. In addition to the familiar green, look for purple and white asparagus.
In the April-June window of fresh American-grown asparagus, you can simply steam fresh stalks to al dente—so tasty they don’t even require butter or lemon mayonnaise.
Low in calories, asparagus are a dieter’s delight. Plan how you’ll enjoy asparagus season in new and different ways.
Sure, it’s delicious for
Breakfast: in an omelet, frittata, scrambled eggs, poached eggs or as a side with Eggs Benedict.
Lunch: added to a salad, a conventional sandwich or a wrap; make a salad with sliced beef or lamb; asparagus soup.
First Course: asparagus with red grapefruit; asparagus with bacon or pancetta*.
Dinner: An asparagus salad with your protein (here, Greek style with feta, kalamata olives, mint and red onion); grilled salmon with asparagus and pineapple salsa; scallops with asparagus and morels.
You don’t even have to cook. Just lightly steam asparagus in the microwave for a minute or more. Photo © Hannah Kaminsky | BittersweetBlog.com.
Sides: grilled asparagus (recipe with mushrooms and shaved Parmesan), grilled rack of asparagus, sweet and spicy asparagus; stir-fried; pickled asparagus.
Or, make asparagus Pasta, pizza or risotto.
*Cook the bacon, then use the drippings to moisten the asparagus. Top with cut or crumbled bacon, and sprinkle with optional grated Parmesan.
Crostini, topped with hummus and sliced asparagus. Photo © Hannah Kaminsky | BittersweetBlog.com.
ASPARAGUS FOR SNACKING OR HORS D’OEUVRE
Snack on plain, steamed asparagus for a delicious low-calorie snack. You can mix yogurt and Dijon mustard or use balsamic vinaigrette if you need a dip.
Include asparagus in a crudités platter (for uncooked asparagus, look for the thinnest ones; or blanch thicker ones).
Add asparagus to a snacking plate of hummus or other spreads and dips, charcuterie, cheese, gherkins and/or olives with crackers or breads.
Make asparagus crostini, with either hummus or grated cheese.
HOW TO BUY ASPARAGUS
Select bright green asparagus with closed, compact, firm tips and smooth, tender skin. Try to find even-size spears. Size is measured by diameter, and ranges from small (3/16 inch) to jumbo (7/8 inch).
The tenderness of the asparagus relates to color, not size. The greener (or whiter for white asparagus) the spears, the more tender they’ll be.
Fat spears are just as tender as thin ones; the only difference is that the ends of fatter asparagus are woodier at the cut end.
With very thin asparagus, you can often eat the last millimeter. If you’re concerned that they won’t be tender, cut them off and try them once they’re steamed. Then, toss them into omelets, rice, salads, etc. If they’re too tough to enjoy, you can use them in a purée, sauce or soup.
Of course, you should cut off the dried out cut end before cooking.
If the tips of the asparagus are slightly wilted, freshen them by soaking them in cold water.
Keep fresh asparagus moist until you intend to use it—in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag.
The bottom of asparagus stalks are tough and should be trimmed before cooking. Using a vegetable peeler, first lightly strip off the bottom few inches of skin. Next, gently bend the bottom of the stalk until it snaps off. Don’t force it—it will naturally break in the correct spot.
HOW TO PREPARE ASPARAGUS FOR COOKING
THE HISTORY OF ASPARAGUS
The asparagus plant is a member of the lily family, Asparagaceae, which also includes agave. There are more than 300 species of asparagus, most of which are grown as ornamental plants.
Asparagus were first cultivated more than 2,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region.
The ancient Greeks and Romans prized asparagus for its unique flavor, texture and alleged medicinal qualities. The vegetable gained popularity in France and England in the 16th Century; King Louis XIV of France enjoyed this delicacy so much that he had special greenhouses built to supply it year-round. Early colonists brought it to America.
Asparagus is a perennial plant raised in furrowed fields. It takes about three years before the plants produce asparagus. The delicate plant needs a temperate climate and requires much hand labor in all phases of cultivation. The spears are cut by hand when they reach about 9 inches in length.
Asparagus is nutritious: a good source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc; and a very good source of copper, dietary fiber, folate, iron, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and vitamin K. It is very low in calories, and contains no fat or cholesterol.