Oh, delicious asparagus. Those of you who grow your own know that it’s worth the multi-year investment to get those freshly picked, delicious young shoots. (As a perennial, asparagus will return each year but for it’s first two, or usually three, years cannot be harvested.)
Health Benefits of Asparagus
The nutritional benefits are almost too many to list. Asparagus contains many anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as asparagus saponins and various flavonoids, which all help to combat arthritis, asthma and autoimmune diseases. Glutathione, found in asparagus, is a small protein composed of three amino acids (glumatic acid, glycine and cysteine). It serves as a powerful oxidation-reduction agent in our bodies. Along with the antioxidants vitamin C, beta-carotene, zinc, manganese and selenium, the glutathione in asparagus fights against free radicals that cause aging and “cellular rust.” These anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties make asparagus a great protection against bladder, breast, colon, lung, prostate, ovarian and other cancers.
Folate, a B complex vitamin, is found in abundance in asparagus. Among many benefits, B vitamins help manage our blood sugar levels by effectively metabolizing sugars and starches. Folate is also essential for proper cellular division, and healthy servings of asparagus can prevent folate-deficiency in pregnancy.
Inulin, a carbohydrate in asparagus, encourages the growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, two beneficial organisms that boost nutrient absorption, lower the risk of allergy and colon cancer, and help prevent unfriendly bacteria from taking hold in our intestinal tract. (We’ll be discussing these bacteria at length soon.)
Storage & Preparation
Fresh asparagus spears should be stored in the refrigerator. If not using within a day or so, stand the spears on end in a bit of water in a wide mouthed jar or glass and cover the tips loosely with a plastic sandwich bag.
When ready to prepare, you will need to snap off the woody ends. Simply hold the stalk in one hand and grasp the end in the other. Bend slightly, and the stalk will snap at the point where the woody end, ends (make sense?). (Alternatively, you could use a veggie peeler to peel down the tough ends, but that seems like a lot more work.)
Delicious asparagus could not be easier to prepare. I’ll share my favorite way, which is less a recipe than a simple method, with a variation, and some other easy ideas. Please comment to share yours, too!
Preheat oven to 4oo degrees.
Place clean, snapped spears on a baking pan or stone. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt (and pepper, if using) and toss.
Roast for 10-25 minutes, until tender. (That’s quite a range, huh? It’s just that it depends on the thickness of the spears, how many you have and their spacing, and of course, your desired doneness.) For particularly thick spears, you’ll want to re-toss them halfway through roasting.
Many people roast at a higher temperature, which will go a little quicker, but will crisp the tips a bit more. Find what you prefer. You really can’t screw it up.
*I have talked about how I generally don’t heat olive oil. However, the temperature that olive oil will reach in a hot oven is not nearly as high as it would reach in a pan on the stovetop, so I don’t have too much concern here. What I usually do is use one of the other fats in the summer, when they are liquid and easy to use, and then will most often use the olive oil in the winter.
Variation: For a delicious appetizer, I will sometimes wrap asparagus is prosciutto and roast it. You won’t need salt, as the prosciutto is salty enough on its own, and often won’t need additional fat (although I will sometimes drizzle just a little extra-virgin olive oil if my prosciutto looks dry). Make sure to purchase prosciutto that is nitrate-free. The ingredient list should say: pork, salt. I use Speck prosciutto because at my grocery store it is the only nitrate-free, and is the cheapest!
Roast as directed above and serve with fresh sour cream. It’s amazing.
*Drizzle cooked asparagus with balsamic vinegar, or better yet, make a quick balsamic-butter sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan, and then remove from heat and stir in naturally fermented soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Use ingredients in a ratio of about 2:1:1. (I love vinegar; you may want to start with a tad less.)
*Serve with a cheater Hollandaise sauce (no double-boiler required!): In blender, combine one large egg yolk, 1-1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice and a pinch cayenne pepper. With blender running, slowly drizzle in 4 Tbsp. melted butter. If too thick, blend in 1 tsp. of lukewarm water to loosen it up. Taste and season with sea salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.
*Take advantage of some nutty undertones: Pan saute in butter, and when cooked to desired tenderness (keep somewhat crisp), add in slivered almonds (maybe 1/3 cup for a pound of asparagus?) and the same amount of raw Parmesan (shredded or shaved).
*Roast as directed above, adding in shallots, fresh thyme or other herb of your choice.
*Steam or blanch and chop to 1-2″ pieces for use in salads. One of my favorite restaurant salads in a great lettuce mix topped with asparagus pieces and pan-fried goat cheese. YUM.
*Use in quiche.
*Although we don’t make pasta often, when we indulge, one of my favorite spring and summer dishes is a pasta primavera. Asparagus is always included!
*Add your ideas below!
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