Asparagus is a spring perennial that’s been considered a delicacy since early ancient times. Pictures of it have even been found in ancient Egyptian paintings, and the name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot.” Written recipes date back to the 3rd century!
This spring vegetable’s tender texture, succulent taste, and short growing season have all played a role in its reputation as a “luxury” vegetable. After all, it takes a lot of patience to grow asparagus because it takes 2 to 3 years to get your first harvest. But once you start harvesting, you will get fresh asparagus for many years to come!
Asparagus is typically harvested when the spears are 6-8 inches tall, with only young shoots commonly eaten, since older spears develop a woody texture. The younger and thinner the spears, the more tender they will be. So, whether you are growing your own or purchasing at the local market, be sure to look for firm, thin stems with deep green or purplish closed tips, avoiding limp or wilted stems
To store asparagus, wrap the ends in a damp paper towel and place in the refrigerator. Asparagus typically lasts for less than a week, so plan to use it within a few days. If you find your bunch of asparagus contains some thickened or woody spears, don’t fret – simply snap off the thick woody ends or you can peel the skin off the tough parts to help soften it during cooking, as well as shorten the cooking time.
It’s usually best to cook the asparagus whole. The shoots can be prepared and served in a number of ways using them hot or cold in salads, pasta, stir-fries, soups or grilled as a side dish , pairing well with both creamy and light sauces.
What about nutrition? One cup of cooked asparagus has only 20 calories and is a good source of folic acid, several B vitamins and vitamin C. It’s also a rich source of inulin, a special pre-biotic fiber that helps feed the good bacteria in your gut.
For a simple and delicious way to enjoy this delicacy, try this recipe for Spring Roasted Asparagus from Old Oak Family Farms in Bangor, Wisconsin.
- 1 bunch fresh asparagus (15 – 20 thin spears)
- 3 Tbsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Preheat oven to 375° F. Wash and trim asparagus. Coat bottom of 9 x 13 inch baking dish with olive oil and place asparagus spears in dish. Drizzle asparagus with honey; sprinkle with salt. Roast about 15 minutes or until tender.
Here are some additional ideas (courtesy of Good Housekeeping) on several ways to flavor 2 pounds of steamed spears:
· Almond-Parsley: ½ cup chopped salted almonds, 2 Tbsp. parsely, 2 Tbsp. melted butter, and ¼ tsp. salt
· French Mustard: 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, 1 Tbsp. chives, 2 tsp. olive oil, sugar to taste
· Zesty Bacon: 5 strips chopped bacon, 1 Tbsp. bacon grease, 2 tsp. grated lemon peel, 2 tsp. lemon juice
· Parmesan: ¼ cup grated parmesan, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper
· Orange-Mint: mint leaves, melted butter, and orange zest
-Morgan McManimon-Myers, Senior Dietetics Student at Viterbo University, contributed to this article.