All about Asparagus

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asparagus_cAsparagus is a nutrient-rich food with a load of micronutrients. It's high in folic acid and is a source of fiber, potassium, thiamin and assorted essential vitamins. And while the Michigan asparagus won't be available for a few weeks yet, there's still plenty of California spears to be found.

Dan Vierra

It's too early for farm stands to be open, but a spring staple, fresh asparagus, is now appearing at stores near you. You can't miss it in the produce sections of any supermarket, and the price is wholly affordable.

Asparagus is a nutrient-rich food with a load of micronutrients. It's high in folic acid and is a source of fiber, potassium, thiamin and assorted essential vitamins. And while the Michigan asparagus won't be available for a few weeks yet, there's still plenty of California spears to be found.

You can grill it, steam it, roast it and even use the woody stalks to season soups and stews. This beautiful veggie is so versatile and elegant you could serve it every night of the week and never fix the same recipe twice. Asparagus is as delicious served under a couple of poached eggs as it is alongside a roast leg of lamb, grilled chicken or beef.

For those not well-versed in the ABCs of asparagus, this is your lucky day. We give you several reasons why you should get in the spear-it:

  • Aphrodisiac. Yes, asparagus is one of those foods that the ancients believed possessed attributes other than tasting good. Today, we respect it for its nutritional value.
  • Best food pairings with asparagus are butter, cheese and eggs. Chicken and fish complement asparagus, as do the herbs tarragon, chervil, savory, chives and parsley. Hollandaise is a classic sauce for asparagus, which also goes well with vinaigrettes.
  • Devouring 6.25 pounds of tempura deep-fried asparagus spears, Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., is the world record holder for asparagus eaten in 10 minutes. The feat is recognized by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
  • Flavor is the most intense when asparagus is consumed within two hours of being cut in the fields. Otherwise, it tastes best when eaten the day it is purchased.
  • Green is the most common color of asparagus, but it's also purple or white. White asparagus is denied sunlight to prevent the production of chlorophyll.
  • Incidentally, that gorgeous purple asparagus turns green when cooked.
  • Julius Caesar relished asparagus, first dining on it in Lombardy (northern Italy), where it was paired with melted butter.
  • Knife and fork, or fingers? According to protocolconsultants.com, the global economy has made it perfectly acceptable for Americans to copy Europeans and use fingers, "knowing, of course, that you are eating asparagus 'European style.' "
  • Lily plant family members include not only asparagus but garlic, onions and leeks, which makes for pungent family reunions.
  • Michigan asparagus is harvested for a six- to seven-week period from late April or early May through mid- to late June. Michigan ranks third in the nation for asparagus production, growing up to 25 million pounds annually. Michigan growers harvest approximately 11,000 acres of asparagus annually.
  • Nutritionally, asparagus is a leading supplier of folic acid. A 5.3-ounce serving provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folic acid that is necessary for blood-cell formation and growth, and prevention of liver disease. Asparagus is also low in calories and sodium, and is a great source of fiber and potassium.
  • Oceana County is home to the National Asparagus Festival, held this year June 12-14 in Shelby, Mich.
  • Prepare asparagus by bending spears until they snap. The top is the most tender part; the lower portion is fibrous and tough -- it can be used to flavor soups and stocks.
  • Roasted asparagus is delicious. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in 425-degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Shorter time for smaller spears.
  • Servings: One pound of untrimmed asparagus will serve three or four, depending on appetite. It's a side dish, so you have more latitude in portions.
  • Test for freshness by squeezing bundled asparagus. If it squeaks, it's fresh.
  • Urine may have an unusual odor after we digest asparagus. The smell has been linked to sulfur-containing compounds and is harmless.
  • Versatility, thy name is asparagus. Boil, steam, grill, bake, stir-fry, microwave or eat spears raw.
  • Wrap the cut ends with a moist paper towel and store asparagus in the refrigerator.
  • XIV. Roman numerals of France's Sun King, Louis XIV, an asparagus fanatic. He had greenhouses constructed so asparagus would be available year-round.
  • You need more reasons to eat asparagus? No fat, no cholesterol and it's low in sodium.

Asparagus pointers

The Food Network offers these tips for buying and using asparagus:

When available: The optimum season for asparagus is February to June. The slender, earliest stalks are the most tender, but you can enjoy this vegetable throughout the spring.

Buying tips: The tenderest stalks are apple-green with purple tips. Choose firm, bright green stalks with tight tips.

Storage: While best cooked the same day, asparagus can be kept tightly wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for three to four days.

Preparation: Wash before using. If the lower stems are tough, peel them before cooking.


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