In Season: "Tips" On Asparagus
Springtime is the best time to find an abundance of fresh asparagus at your local supermarket.
Like garlic and onions, asparagus is an edible member of the lily family, prized for its great flavor and nutritional value.
Asparagus contains moderate amounts of vitamins C, A and E, potassium, small amounts of iron and quite a bit of fiber.
Varieties of wild asparagus can be found growing near riverbanks and salt marshes in both Asia and Europe.
Cultivation dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who used asparagus for medicinal purposes more than 2000 years ago.
Most of the asparagus found in U.S. markets is green, but white asparagus is the popular choice in Europe. Surprisingly, they are not different varieties - the white asparagus is simply grown in darkness and consequently has no green pigment (a.k.a. chlorophyll). As far as the flavor is concerned, it's said that white asparagus is a bit sweeter.
Selecting and Storing Asparagus
When shopping for asparagus, look for smooth stalks with tightly closed buds. Avoid any stalks that look shriveled or wrinkled. Depending on the thickness, between twelve and twenty spears equal about one pound of asparagus.
As soon as you bring asparagus home from the store, trim about half an inch from the bottom of the stalks and place them upright in a container with an inch or two of water in the bottom. Just like a bouquet of flowers, asparagus can wilt if it goes without moisture for too long.
It is best to cook your asparagus the same day you buy it, but it can be stored for up to three days if necessary. Just loosely cover the container with a plastic bag and refrigerate it. You can also wrap the bottom of the trimmed spears with wet paper towels and seal them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, although the first storage method yields better results.
Quick and Easy to Prepare
Before cooking, trim off any woody ends (don't use the "snapping" method - you'll waste too much of the spear) and unless your spears are very slender, peel a bit of the outer skin off toward the bottom of the stalk. This helps to ensure tenderness and the spears will cook more evenly.
A quick, easy method of preparing asparagus is to roast it. Heat your oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spray with non-stick cooking spray and spread your spears out in a single layer. Brush them with a bit of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning the spears once or twice with a pair of tongs as needed. Grate some fresh parmesan cheese and squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top of the spears the minute they come out of the oven for some added zing.