Asparagus Spring Debut

Ah spring! The deep snow blanketing Michigan may make thoughts of spring seem like a distant dream, but the abundance of spring produce appearing in local markets heralds the coming of warmer (and sunnier!) days. Asparagus, one of nature’s most nutritionally dense and well-balanced veggies, is also one of the first to make its spring debut. In fact, when the price of asparagus drops below $2.00 a pound, you can bet that spring can’t be too far behind!

So just what’s packed inside those graceful (and a mere 4 calories each!) stalks?

Folate (folic acid) 1 cup of asparagus contains a whopping 66% of the Daily Value!

Anticancer

Heart protective

Plays critical role in prevention of fetal neural tube defects

Blood cell formation

Fiber 1 cup contains 3g fiber!

Insoluble fiber for digestive health

Soluble fiber to lower cholesterol

Glutathione (GSH)

Potent anti-carcinogen and antioxidant

Rutin

Important for blood vessel health

Saponins

Binds and prevents absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract

Inulin

A special kind of carbohydrate that isn’t digested, but which helps promote

growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract

B vitamins, vitamins A and C

Antioxidant, immune boosting properties

In addition, asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K; a very good source of tryptophan, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and protein; and a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and calcium…all bundled up in a 43 calorie cup sized serving!

The health benefits of this nutritional powerhouse include:

DIGESTIVE HEALTH

Thanks to both inulin and fiber, asparagus helps keep your digestive tract

running smoothly.

NATURAL DIURETIC

Asparagus contains an ample supply of potassium with virtually no sodium.

This mineral ratio, combined with the activity of the amino acid, asparagine,

is responsible for the powerful diuretic properties of asparagus. Get bloated

around your period? Make asparagus your go to veggie!

HEART HEALTH

Both folic acid and vitamin B6 help lower homocysteine levels, which is great

for cardiovascular health. Fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium also

play important roles in keeping your heart healthy.

BONE HEALTH

Thanks to the nutritional tag team vitamin K, calcium, phosphorus, and

magnesium, asparagus promotes development and maintenance of strong

bones.

ANTIOXIDANT

Asparagus contains significant amounts of vitamins A and C, zinc, and

selenium, which help protect cells from free radical damage.

ENERGY PRODUCTION

B vitamins in asparagus play an essential role in converting protein, fat,

and carbohydrates in food into usable energy. Iron helps move oxygen, and

energy, through your body.

FETAL HEALTH

The folic acid in asparagus is critical to cell division, DNA synthesis, and

healthy neural tube formation.

Enough about nutrition…let’s get to the cooking part! Asparagus is simple to prepare and easy to add to other foods like soups, pizzas, and stir fries to boost the nutritional value. When purchasing asparagus, look for dark green stalks with firm (not mushy!) tips. Asparagus has a short shelf life, so be sure to use it within a day or two of purchase.

For the best preparation, cut or snap off the bottom ¼ of each stem, which are too tough and fibrous to eat (you can keep these ends, cook them in a small amount of water until very tender, discard the asparagus, and add the liquid to soups or stews for a power surge!) Peeling asparagus is visually appealing, but not necessary.

The water soluble vitamins in asparagus (B, C) are easily lost in oversteaming. Steam for just a couple of minutes or grill, broil, roast, or pan sear your asparagus. Most of the phytonutrients are concentrated in the asparagus tip, so keep the tip out of the water if steaming by using a vegetable or asparagus steamer insert.

Not a big asparagus fan? Try some of these preparations and see if it just doesn’t change your mind!

Simple Roast Asparagus

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray shallow roasting pan with cooking spray, preferably organic canola oil. Cut or snap end off asparagus and place in single layer in roasting pan. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until done to taste. The longer the asparagus roasts, the crunchier its texture will become. Check periodically to avoid burning the tender tips. Serve hot or at room temperature. Add salt, pepper, parmesan or other seasonings to taste.

A Couple of Great Dipping Ideas for Roasted Asparagus (adapted from www.epicurious.com )

Saffron Aioli

¼ cup red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Pinch saffron threads

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Whisk vinegar, honey, and saffron in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, remove from heat, then cool completely. Mix mayo and garlic in medium bowl. Add cooled vinegar mixture. Season with salt and pepper

Wasabi-Mayonnaise Dip

1 cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1 ½ teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons wasabi paste

Whisk all ingredients together. Prepared wasabi mayonnaises are also available at most grocery and specialty stores.

Roasted Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette (adapted from Bon Appetit, March, 2005)

1/3 cup minced shallots

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup organic extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound asparagus, ends trimmed

6 cups lightly packed arugula

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, optional

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Whisk together first 5 ingredients in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes and re-whisk before using.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place asparagus on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle ¼ cup of vinaigrette over asparagus and turn to coat. Spread into single layer, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes.

Combine arugula, chives, and roast asparagus in large bowl. Add remaining vinaigrette and toss to coat. Transfer to platter, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fontina, Asparagus, and Leek Stata

This is an ideal dish for a brunch, since it is prepared a day in advance and popped into the oven for about 40 minutes before serving. A strata is similar to a frittata, but typically includes a layer of bread, which soaks up some of the egg and creates a unique texture.

1 tablespoon organic butter

5 cups (1-inch) sliced asparagus, about 1 ½ pounds

2 cups thinly sliced leeks

½ cup water

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons minced fresh or ½ teaspoon dried tarragon

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided

12 slices thin bread, such as Pepperidge Farm Very Thin

1 cup shredded fontina cheese, divided

2 ½ cups 1% milk

3 large eggs

1 large egg white

Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus, leeks, and water. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley, tarragon, lemon rind, salt, and half of pepper. Arrange half of bread slices in single layer in a 13X9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top bread slices with half of asparagus mixture, and sprinkle with half of cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, asparagus mixture, and cheese. Whisk together remaining pepper, milk, eggs, and egg white. Pour milk mixture over strata. Cover and chill overnight. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Uncover strata and bake for 40 minutes or until set. Serves 6.

Asparagus Stir-Fry (adapted form www.101cookbooks.com )

Toasted sesame oil

8 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into pencil thick slices and drained

4 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1 tablespoon peeled grated ginger

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ pound or more asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

3 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ cup toasted cashews, roughly chopped

2 cups (loosely packed spinach, kale, or chard, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1 tablespoons mint, slivered

1 tablespoon basil, slivered

Pinch of sea salt

Heat 1 teaspoon sesame oil in large pan or wok. When hot, add tofu and cook until golden. Remove tofu from pan and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil to pan and add onions, ginger, red pepper flakes, asparagus, and salt. Stir fry about 1 minute, then add garlic, cashews, and spinach. Stir fry another minute or until greens wilt. Return tofu to pan. Stir in lime zest and juice and the hoisin sauce. Cook additional 20 seconds, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, add mint, basil, and additional salt if desired. Serves 2.

Asparagus and Shiitake Risotto ( adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2003)

5 cups chicken broth

1 cup water

1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into ¼ -inch slices (leave tips 1 ½ inches)

1 tablespoon organic extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons organic unsalted butter

¾ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps in ¼-inch slices

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 ½ cups Arborio rice (do not substitute regular rice)

½ cup dry white wine

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring broth and water to boil in 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook 3 minutes. Transfer asparagus with slotted spoon to large bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking process (Don’t skip this step!). Pat asparagus dry. Keep broth a simmer, covered. Heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté mushrooms until browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a bowl. Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat, stirring repeatedly, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook until absorbed, about 1 minute. Ladle 1 cup simmering broth into the rice mixture and cook at strong simmer, stirring until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue adding broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing broth to be absorbed. Add broth until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18-20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ½ cup cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently add asparagus and mushrooms; cover pan, and let stand 1 minute. Serve with remaining cheese to pass.

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