It's that time of year again when the fresh, local produce is becoming available. I am so excited! I am picking up some locally grown asparagus from the Farmer's Market later today. How about you? Can you get some local produce now? Even if it isn't local, I bet you can find some good, in-season asparagus in your grocery store.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family. Aside from being delicious, it is a great source of nutrition: 1 cup of cooked asparagus contains much of your daily value for many nutrients, including vitamin K (115%), folate (66%), vitamin C (32%), vitamin A (19%), tryptophan (16%), B1 (15%), B2 (14%), manganese (14%), B6 (11%), and 5-10% of copper, B3, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc! Wow! All this, along with 3g fiber and 9g protein for only 43 calories! Hard to beat.
How do you prep and eat this stuff? Well, prep is simple. Wash it and then cut the bottom ends off. The bottom of the stalk can be more woody/fibrous. An easy way to find the point at which tenderness is compromised is to break the ends off with your hands. The stalks will naturally snap at the point where they become tougher.
You can eat asparagus raw if you like, but I like it lightly steamed (just a few minutes until it turns bright green). You can cook a bunch and then chill it in the fridge for later use. I eat it cold (with my fingers) as a snack. Great dipped in hummus, too. Or you can chop it and add it to an omelet or scrambled eggs. I like to add chopped asparagus to my salads as well. And I think asparagus goes very well with eggs, so a favorite meal of mine is steamed asparagus topped with egg salad (1 or 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped and mixed with a bit of light mayo, Dijon mustard, salt, & pepper). So filling and good! Asparagus is also really great tossed with some whole grain pasta (my favorite includes chicken breast, black olives, a bit of bacon, and Parmesan cheese). If you want to try something other than steaming, you can saute asparagus in a nonstick pan with a bit of olive oil until it is tender-crisp, then add some minced or sliced fresh garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant. A bit of salt & black pepper and you have an amazing side dish. Or you can toss the spears with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and roast it at 400 degrees on a cookie sheet until it starts to brown. Delicious!
I have a little story about asparagus, along with a recipe of sorts, that I'd like to share.
When I was in my very early 20's, I lived out in the country on a farm. All around us there were fields, and decades ago, in these fields grew asparagus. Over time all the farmland had been converted to other crops, but every spring, asparagus would sprout up in the irrigation canals and along their banks. I would take my little son, who was 2, and we would go out walking along the banks looking for asparagus to pick. My sweet little boy would point when he saw the spears poking up through the soil, and I'd cut them and stick them in a bag. When the bag was full, we'd go home and milk our goat, Katie. I'd head to the kitchen with the freshly cut asparagus and warm goat's milk and I'd make a big pot of asparagus soup for dinner. I didn't really have a recipe, per se, but it went something like this:
Melt a big lump of butter in a stock pot and add a big chopped onion. Saute the onion until it is soft. Toss a heaping spoonful of flour in the pan and stir for a minute.
Strain the milk and slowly add it to the pan, whisking to make sure there's no lumps from the flour. Bring to a simmer. Add the cleaned and chopped asparagus. Add some salt and black pepper.
Simmer and whisk occasionally until the asparagus is tender.
Carefully ladle it into the blender (not too full; it will make a huge mess if you fill it and blend hot liquid!) and puree it in batches (or use an immersion blender right in the pot). Return the soup to the pot and serve with crusty bread.
Simple and delicious!
Every time I eat asparagus, I think of those pleasant days walking the canal banks with my chubby cheeked toddler, the warm sun shining off his soft blonde ringlets and unfettered excitement shining in his bright blue eyes. He is almost 20 now and off to college. I miss him. But the memories of his childhood bring me much peace and happiness.
Enjoy the wonderful spring bounty of asparagus while it's fresh! I know I will.