Courtesy of Richard's Whole Foods

Celebrate Spring with Asparagus

Posted: 5/5/2006

Posted May 4, 2006

Asparagus is a sure sign of spring. A wonderful side dish to just about any entree, it's colorful enough to be served for brunch, lunch or dinner. The California asparagus harvest begins in February. The supply peaks in March, April and into May, then tapers off in June. Nearly 95 percent of the 200 million pounds of fresh asparagus grown in the United States comes from California. The other top producers are Washington state and Michigan.

Naturally low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium, asparagus is an excellent source of folic acid and a significant source of vitamin C, thiamin and vitamin B6. It's also an important source of potassium and many micronutrients such as glutathione, which fights cancer.

When cooking asparagus, trim about an inch from the end (you don't need to do this when using the Michigan variety). Do not overcook. Asparagus absorbs water and then breaks down.

Betty Elder, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, explains that hers "is the only state that hand-snaps the asparagus above the ground. The stalk breaks where it's tender. Other states cut below ground. So hand-snapped Michigan asparagus is all edible asparagus."

Asparagus can be blanched or boiled, steamed, microwaved, stir-fried or grilled.

To blanch or boil, choose a frying pan large enough to hold the asparagus in one layer. Bring 3 inches of water to boil, add the asparagus, and cook at medium boil until fork tender, about 5 minutes.

To steam, place whole trimmed asparagus on a steamer rack in a large saucepot over boiling water. Cover and steam 4 to 8 minutes.

To microwave, arrange whole trimmed asparagus with tips overlapping in the center in a microwave-safe glass baking dish. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons water. Cover dish with plastic wrap, turning back one corner to vent steam. Microwave on high power for 3 to 6 minutes, then let stand for 3 to 5 minutes.

To stir-fry, cut asparagus spears into 1-inch lengths, and then stir-fry in hot oil, stirring constantly for 3 to 7 minutes.

To grill, brush spears (blanched if jumbo size) with olive oil and place directly on grill. Cook until tender, turning several times for 3 to 6 minutes.

Asparagus is served often for Mother's Day, and always for the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in May.

The spears can be wrapped with prosciutto and served as an appetizer. Cut the spears in 1- to 2-inch segments and add to risotto, omelets or quiche. Some cooks like steamed asparagus spears placed with smoked salmon, cream cheese and red onion slices in a sandwich or served with pasta.

Marinated Asparagus

1 pounds fresh asparagus, ends trimmed cup sugar cup white vinegar cup soy sauce 2 tablespoons canola oil cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted

Fill a large frying pan with 2 inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Plunge the asparagus into the water and remove after 1 minute. Drain immediately and pat dry. Place in a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish. Combine sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and oil. Whisk vigorously. Pour over asparagus. Cover and chill for at least eight hours.

To serve, drain the marinade. Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with nuts.

Yield: 8 servings

- "Paula Deen & Friends: Living It Up Southern Style"

Veggie Hash in a Dash

2 tablespoons olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 2 bell peppers (1 red and 1 yellow), chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 pound frozen cubed potatoes, thawed (4 cups) pound fresh mushrooms, quartered 1 10-ounce box frozen asparagus cuts, thawed teaspoon salt teaspoon black pepper

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and garlic; saute five minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add potatoes and mushrooms; cook 10 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are lightly browned, stirring frequently. Add asparagus, salt and pepper; cook until heated through. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings (Exchanges for 1 serving: 1 starch, 2 vegetable, and 1 fat)

- "Mr. Food Diabetic Dinners in a Dash"

Date: May 2, 2006

2003 The Evansville Courier Company