Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. I love going to the grocery store or farmers market and finding the fresh stalks this time of year. I even invested in an upright steamer to make preparing fresh asparagus a breeze. One time I thought about planting some until I found out that you must plant it a year before it will begin to produce. It often takes up to three years before harvesting can take place. It takes time for the plant’s fibrous root system to develop. When it does begin to produce, it will generally last for about 15 years without being replanted if it is well cared for.
Asparagus is a member of the lily plant family. Asparagus spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in sandy soils. Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10 inches in a 24-hour period. Each crown will send spears up for about six to eight weeks during the spring and early summer. The outdoor temperature determines how much time will be between pickings. Early in the season, there may be four or five days between pickings. As the days and nights get warmer, it may have to be picked every 24 hours.
Asparagus is very low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in carbohydrates. It is also low in sodium and high in folic acid. Asparagus is a good source of potassium, fiber, thiamin and Vitamins A, B-6 and C.
Miss Manners tells us that an asparagus spear should be eaten with the fingers — one of the only foods that we are allowed to do so at the table when using our good manners.
Fresh asparagus should be stored clean, cold and covered. Use within two or three days of purchase for best quality. To maintain freshness, stand spears in two inches of cold water or wrap a damp paper towel around the stem ends. Before cooking asparagus, snap the tough ends off the bottom. You can cook asparagus in a saucepan, frying pan or double boiler. Use a small amount of boiling water to place asparagus spears in. Fresh asparagus should be crisp tender in five to eight minutes, depending on the size of the stalk. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the diameter of the stalk, the better the quality. You may also prepare fresh asparagus in the microwave. Place one pound of asparagus in a microwaveable dish or serving bowl. Arrange spears with tips in the center. Add about ¼ cup of water and cover tightly and microwave for four to seven minutes.
Roasted asparagus is also a delicious way to enjoy this vegetable. Spread prepared asparagus spears on a large-rimmed baking dish. Drizzle spears with olive oil, and roll them around to completely cover each spear with the olive oil. Place in a 450-degree oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Occasionally shake the pan to roll them around for even browning. Test with a fork to determine doneness. The spears should be browned, but not charred. They will shrink and have a wrinkled appearance. Add salt and pepper to serve.
If you aren’t a big asparagus fan or have never really cooked it very often, try something different and introduce your family to this vegetable. I have some more asparagus recipes for you to try. Thanks for reading.
PESTO CHICKEN PASTA
8 ounces bowtie pasta (farfalle), cooked according to package directions
2 cups fresh asparagus, cut into pieces and steamed
3 cups cooked, cubed chicken
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1 (2.5-ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained
¾ cup prepared pesto sauce
3 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Combine cooked pasta and asparagus in a bowl. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, onion and olives. Gently toss with pesto sauce. Serve warm, garnished with cheese.
1 pound fresh asparagus
10-12 strips of bacon
Wash and trim asparagus spears. Cut bacon strips in half crosswise. Wrap one half strip bacon around each asparagus spear, leaving the tip and end exposed. Lay on a cookie sheet with sides. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bacon is cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature.
ROASTED POTATOES AND ASPARAGUS
½ cup Italian dressing
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
2 pounds small red new potatoes (washed, unpeeled and quartered — about 1-inch pieces)
2 cups fresh asparagus spears that have been cut into pieces
2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup sliced green onion
Combine the salad dressing and mustard until blended. Toss ¼ cup of this mixture with potatoes in a medium bowl. Spray a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking sheet with Pam. Arrange potatoes on pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and add asparagus. Continue to bake for 15 more minutes. Check to see that potatoes are tender and asparagus is lightly browned. Place this mixture into a large bowl. Stir in tomatoes, onion and remaining dressing. Serve warm or at room temperature. This is a great side dish.
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