Enjoy the Exciting Flavor of Some Springtime Asparagus
Once you’ve learned how to prepare asparagus, we’re sure you’ll learn to love it as one of the more flavor-rich vegetables you can buy. In many regions, asparagus is a sign of springtime bounty of fresh produce. Don’t settle for canned asparagus, because eating this amazing vegetable fresh will convert you to its superiority forever. you'll want to take the time to learn about fresh asparagus and a try. Here are some of the better ways to enjoy this super-green springtime miracle with your favorite meals.
What is it?
Asparagus is a perennial plant in many areas of Europe and the United States, including Spain, Ireland, and Germany. The spear shaped stalks you’re used to seeing are actually considered the leaves of the plant. A tender asparagus spike is small and slender in the early growing season, having no buds or berries. This is actually the perfect time for plucking the nutrient-rich vegetable at its peak. Each plant produces yellow or white bell-shaped flowers and small red berries once the plant has matured into a hard, woody texture that is no longer suitable for eating. In fact, asparagus berries are poisonous.
As a natural diuretic, asparagus was used in the medicinal field in its early days. The oldest known cookbook, Apicius' De re coquinaria, Volume III, contains a recipe for cooking asparagus, a testament to its longevity as part of our culture’s diet.
Originally cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans, people ate fresh asparagus during the spring and summer months and dried it for soups in the winter. Asparagus lost some of its popularity In the Middle Ages, but found momentum again in the seventeenth century. It has since become a popular vegetable in today's culinary environment.
Asparagus is an excellent low calorie, nutrient rich vegetable, and is a wonderful source of calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and magnesium. The outer stalk also has high amounts of dietary fiber and elevated levels of iron, folic acid, and vitamins E and K. This makes asparagus a great choice for pregnant women or nursing mothers, since these nutrients help newborn babies develop and stay healthy.
Once classified with cousins onion and garlic in the lily family, it is now considered a member of a flowering plant called Asparagaceae.
Asparagus is today less of a delicacy than it once was due to heavy interest as an import of several countries. The United Kingdom’s short growing season and local demand for fresh produce means asparagus lovers pay a premium for the vegetable, as it’s summer season is much anticipated throughout the year.
Northern Europeans have created a strong following for white asparagus, local to the region, and given it the nickname 'white gold.' At one time, the demand for asparagus was so high that France’s Louis XIV had special greenhouses built specifically for growing the vegetable.
Northern climates in the U.S. anxiously await spring for many reasons, one of which is the delicious prospect of enjoying asparagus that starts peeking through the ground as the soil warms. Motorists often stop and pick wild or 'roadside’ asparagus during their travels abroad.
How to eat
You can serve asparagus spears in a number of delicious ways. It makes a great appetizer or side dish, and in Asian cooking, asparagus is often added to stir-fry or served with chicken, beef, and shrimp. Some U.S. food buffs enjoy asparagus wrapped in bacon or grilled over charcoal for a few minutes. Asparagus is also served steamed with a light hollandaise sauce or used to flavor soups. The versatile veggie can also be diced and tossed in a variety of pasta dishes, hot or cold.
Overcooking asparagus leaves it bitter and limp. To avoid this mistake, you can roast it in the oven on a baking sheet tossed with salt and olive oil. Or, you can put it in a basket, blanch it in a pot of boiling water, then cool it in an ice bath. This quick-cooking method maintains the color, crisp yet tender texture, and flavor of asparagus. Asparagus is rarely eaten raw, but often flash-cooked to maintain the crunch of raw vegetables with the flavor of cooked.
Look for asparagus with firm, small, dark green shoots and tightly bunched heads at the grocery store. This ensures you the freshest batch available. Asparagus may have sand and dirt from the soil it was taken from, even at the store. It’s important, then, to wash your stalks thoroughly at home, then give the stems a quick snap. Stalks that bend and break where tender are the freshest, so avoid bottoms that snap off easily.
It wouldn’t be hard to find recipes with asparagus in a supporting or starring role from one of many cookbooks. Indulge your interest in this fabulous veggie by trying some for yourself soon.