My kids think I’m a little goofy when I gush about a particular ingredient. (I exist so they can make fun of me!) But, seriously, I can rave about asparagus all day long. For many, asparagus is considered a favorite and special vegetable. I’ve always loved asparagus and serve it often. It’s easy and fast to prepare, plus I think it’s a perfect side dish for any type of entertaining. Serve it fresh from the steamer basket, roasted on the grill, or cold with vinaigrette drizzled on top.
Food of the gods:
In fact, asparagus has been a prized vegetable for centuries. As far back as 3000 BC, asparagus was depicted in an Egyptian frieze. Apparently, Queen Nefertiti loved asparagus so much she named it the “food of the gods.” The Romans learned to preserve it by freezing it in the Alps. Even though it can take up to three years to grow to harvest, it is one of the first to appear in the spring. Today we can acquire asparagus all year round, but it still signals “spring is here” to me.
In the list of super foods, asparagus ranks right at the top. Little did Queen Nefertiti know, asparagus packs quite the nutritional punch and is figure-friendly with only 20 calories for five stalks. Nutrients in asparagus help to fight cancer, keep our skin, hair and bones healthy, aid in digestion, and help reduce birth defects.
Get the most from your asparagus:
- Look for fresh stalks that are not dried out or limp. The tips should be firm and intact. Often the stalks will be displayed standing in water to ensure freshness.
- Thick spears are from more mature plants. Too thick could be tougher, unless fresh from your own garden or a farmers market.
- Super thin spears can also not be as tasty. They are the newest part of the plant and often are left to go to seed and will be thicker for the next year’s harvest.
- Choose spears that are uniform in width for even cooking time. I find a little bit thicker spears are great for veggie trays.
- Grasp each spear in the middle and snap off the woody end where it no longer resists. This takes some practice but you will quickly get the hang of it. I like to do each spear individually but some folks will determine approximate length where it would snap off and cut a bunch with a knife for uniformity.
- The base of the spear will take longer to cook than the tip. If you can stand your spears in a tall pot to steam this will give a more even result.
- White asparagus is grown under the earth and then harvested. Its flavor is not quite as intense as green asparagus. Sometimes I will mix it in because it looks pretty!
- Purple asparagus is a later variety, mild in flavor but will turn green when cooked.
- Cooking until just bright green will ensure more flavor and nutrients remain intact.
- Cook al dente by quickly steaming until just bright green then add to a bowl of ice to quickly cool. Easy to make ahead to serve with dip or as a cold side dish.
- Make extra and add to your scrambled eggs tomorrow!
Nefertiti would have loved these delicious asparagus recipes!
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