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Enjoy fresh asparagus this spring

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Jean Ince | County Extension Agent Staff Chair

Asparagus is one of the first fresh vegetables of the year to hit grocery shelves. Its peak season is April and May and you can find it in the fresh vegetable section of your grocery store. Asparagus is not only tasty, but it is great for us!
In fact, asparagus is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables we have. A 5.3 ounce serving (approximately 5 spears) has only 20 calories, 0 fat or cholesterol, 5 milligrams of sodium, 400 milligrams of potassium, 3 grams of fiber, and 60% of Folic Acid. It is also an excellent source of thiamin and vitamin B6.
Asparagus is a great source of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A helps us see great in the dark and helps to maintain overall eye health. Vitamin C protects the skin from bruising, helps heal cuts and keeps gums healthy. Eating foods that are good sources of Vitamin C helps our body to absorb and use iron.
Asparagus also provides potassium, vitamin K and fiber. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, vitamin K helps build and maintain strong bones, and fiber helps control cholesterol and keeps you regular. Eating asparagus may also help reduce your risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. It is also a good source of folate. Eating foods with folate before pregnancy helps lower the risk of delivering a baby with neural tube defects.
When choosing which bunch of asparagus to buy at the grocery store, look for crisp, round spears. The tips of the asparagus should be pointed and tightly closed. Look for spears that are all about the same size too so they will cook evenly. Asparagus should not have an odor. Avoid limp or wilted stalks. Larger diameter spears are tenderer than thinner ones.
Once you get home with your purchase, asparagus should be stored in the refrigerator. Cut off ¼- inch from the end and place the asparagus upright in 1 inch of water or in a plastic bag with the ends wrapped in a wet cloth or paper towel. This will help keep the asparagus fresh. Plan to use it within 2 to 3 days of purchase for the best flavor.
Asparagus is easy to prepare. Just like any other fresh fruit or vegetable, you should wash it in cool running water. If the tips have sand or dirt in them, dunk the tips in and out of water, then rinse well. Trim off any tough or white ends.
One of the easiest ways to prepare asparagus is to steam it. Once you have cleaned it, place in a steamer basket and steam for about 5 to 8 minutes or until just fork tender. Asparagus will have a tendency to continue to cook once it is removed from the steam basket. To keep it green and crisp after cooking, run it under cold water or dip in a bowl of ice water to set the color. Top with butter, fresh squeezed lemon juice or grated Parmesan cheese.
You can cook asparagus in the microwave oven. Place one pound of fresh asparagus in a microwavable baking dish. If cooking whole spears, arrange with tips in the center. Add about ¼ cup water and cover tightly. Microwave for 4 to 7 minutes for spears; 3 to 5 minutes for cuts and tips. Stir and turn halfway through cooking time.
If you have been lucky enough to grow it in your garden and you have an overabundance, asparagus freezes really well. Select tender tips of asparagus. Wash spears thoroughly under running water and trim stalks. You will need to remove the scales with a sharp knife. Cut into even lengths to fit into freezer bags. Asparagus should be blanched – immersed in boiling water – for 2 to 4 minutes depending on size of stalks. Blanching kills enzymes that could cause the asparagus to become tough and taste woody. After blanching, cool it in ice water for the same amount of time it was blanched. This stops the cooking process. After cooling, drain and pat dry. Pack spears into containers or freezer bags, seal, label and freeze.
You can also successfully home can or pickle asparagus. For complete directions, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517.
Asparagus is a versatile vegetable too. You can enjoy it steamed, baked, in casseroles, in an omelet, grilled or stir-fry. Why not pick up a bunch of asparagus today and enjoy it at suppertime!
Recipe of the Week
Here is a great way to enjoy asparagus! This recipe is from the Mediterranean Diet Cooking School and is always a favorite.
Ham & Asparagus Frittata
3 eggs, beaten
6 egg whites, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ teaspoon pepper
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon butter
½ cup roasted asparagus, chopped
½ cup ham, chopped
1 Tablespoon parsley leaves
Preheat oven to broil setting. In a medium size bowl, using a fork, blend together eggs, Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt. Heat a 12-inch non-stick, oven safe sauté pan over medium high heat. Add butter to pan and melt. Add asparagus and ham to pan and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour egg mixture into pan and stir with rubber spatula. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the egg mixture has set on the bottom and begins to set up on top. Sprinkle with parsley.
Place pan into oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned and fluffy. Remove from pan and cut into 6 servings. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings
Nutrition information per serving: Calories 96, Fat 5 g, Sodium 418 mg, Carbohydrates 2 g., Protein 11 g. Goof source of vitamin A, vitamin C, Calcium and Iron.

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