Beautiful bunches of fresh asparagus are appearing in markets and prices are much more reasonable – indicating asparagus season is upon us! Classified officially as a Spring vegetable, asparagus has been considered a delicacy since ancient Roman times.
Generally picked when the spears are about eight inches in length, asparagus is picked as early as February in California, although the official season is considered April through May. In the Midwest and East, the growing season can extend through July.
Both succulent and tender, asparagus spears can be prepared solely as a dish by itself, cooked into a soup, or chopped and added to a number of dishes, including popular stir-fry dishes.
Interestingly enough, researches have reported that metabolic activity continues after asparagus has been picked. This means it continues to intake oxygen, release carbon dioxide, and break down starches and sugars. Scientists have said asparagus has a very high respiration rate, two to five times higher than other vegetables – meaning its shelf life is shorter. Wrapping the cut ends of the stalks in damp paper or cloth can extend its storage time under refrigeration. Generally, asparagus should be consumed within 48 hours of purchase.
Dietitians report that asparagus is one of the most well-balanced vegetables one can consume. It’s nutritional value exceeds nearly all other produce, especially in providing folic acid.
Asparagus is a high-fiber food that is low in calories. Studies show that there are only about four calories in a spear. These “miniature trees,” as some kids fondly call them, contain no fat or cholesterol and are very low in sodium.
This vegetable is rich in potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, thiamin, and rutin, which is said to strengthen capillary walls.
Is it a cancer-fighter?
There has been much press about asparagus being a cancer-fighting food. How beneficial it is to cancer patients hasn’t been well-established in bonafide, current studies, but according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, foods high in folate (like asparagus) “probably protect against pancreatic cancer.”
Varieties of asparagus
Choose your color – green, white or purple. It has been explained that asparagus that is white has been grown underground or shielded from the sun. This is because without exposure to sunlight, the asparagus lacks chlorophyll, which provides the green pigment.
Purple asparagus contains added anthocyanins, a group of phytochemicals that give the plants a blue-purple hue. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, “anthocyanins can act as antioxidants and provide cancer-protective benefits but don’t hold up well in heat.” The color does fade significantly when cooked.
Asparagus can be prepared simply by steaming, roasting or grilling it, or including in a wide range of recipes. When cooking, if one can insert a knife into the thickest part, it is done.
1 bunch fresh asparagus spears, washed and trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus into roomy bowl. Drizzle olive oil over spears, then lemon juice, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Toss lightly to adequately coat spears. Arrange spears onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.
Cream of asparagus soup
1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 (14.5 ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup milk (or 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup half and half if desired)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (if desired)
In a saucepan, combine onion, asparagus and half the chicken broth. Cover tightly and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until asparagus is tender, between 10 and 12 minutes. Place the contests of the saucepan into a blender to puree. Set aside.
In the saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, stir in flour, salt, and pepper, stirring well until paste-like and then add in rest of chicken broth with whisk. When smooth, add the pureed asparagus mixture from the blender and the milk/half and half. Continuously stir over low heat, not allowing it to boil. Serve at desired temperature.