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Monday, April 7, 2014

Asparagus Revisited


 

ASPARAGUS:

When I was young, I always associated asparagus with Easter, because they would be available in the spring.   Now asparagus is available pretty much year round from various growing areas.   Still I always like to have asparagus around Easter.   So, with Easter just two weeks away, I will "re-visit" asparagus.

Asparagus is a spring vegetable.  This member of the lily family has been used over the years  as both a vegetable and a medicine.   In ancient times it was known in Syria and Spain.  Greeks and Romans ate it fresh and dried it for use in the winter.  A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes. 

 Asparagus basically comes in three colors: green, white and purple.  Most of the  asparagus we eat is green.  White asparagus is green asparagus that has been  covered with soil to bleach out the color.  It tastes about the same but tends to have a more tender texture.  Purple asparagus is purple at the tip and at leaf points and tends to have a pale stalk.  Asparagus has a delicate flavor.  Only young asparagus shoots are eaten.  Once the buds start to open the shoots quickly turn woody. 

I remember my dad always called asparagus "grass".    Years later working in Florida I never heard "grass" until I met a New York transplant produce guy who also called it "grass".  I don't know.  May it is a New York thing.   Asparagus is usually displayed in bunches held together by two rubber bands.  I remember one time we displayed the asparagus standing up loose in pans of water.  Some of the customers  were breaking off the bottoms of the stems, which is usually done at home.   I thought this was completely lacking in class and a way to pay less.  I was informed by a senior citizen that we invited people to do this by displaying the asparagus  loose.  Needless to say we always bundled them after that. 

 Asparagus is prepared and served around the world typically as an appetizer or vegetable side dish .  Asparagus is generally thought of as a spring vegetable and the North American peak of season is April to June.  Today however asparagus is available year round from various growing areas. 

Asparagus are loaded with nutrients, fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E, and K  and also chromium.  They are a rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.  Asparagus is packed with antioxidants and contains folate which works with vitamin B12 to help prevent cognitive impairment.

Select asparagus with smooth skin, bright green color, compact heads, and freshly cut ends.  Fresh asparagus should have no odor.   Stem thickness indicates age of the plants.  Thicker stems from older plants can be woody. 

To prepare asparagus hold  both ends and bend until the stalk breaks.  Then roast, grill or stir-fry.  These waterless methods help preserve nutritional content  and antioxidant power.  You can also boil or steam for 5-8 minutes.  Asparagus can be eaten raw  just thoroughly wash with warm water to remove any sand.  Asparagus can also be marinated.  

Lastly, eating asparagus gives the eater's urine a disagreeable odor.  This smell is due to the product formed as a derivative during the digestion and subsequent breakdown of beneficial amino acids that occur naturally in asparagus.   It's normal.

So .......... Eat up!  Enjoy!    I'll show you how.


Simple but good:


Roasted Asparagus

1 bunch thin asparagus
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice. 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Trim the tough stalks off the bottom of the asparagus and place in a mixing bowl and drizzle on olive oil and toss to coat.    Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.  
Arrange asparagus onto a baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake until tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.  Sprinke with lemon juice just before serving.