The first time I see asparagus in store it feels like summer is finally on it’s way. Like strawberries, asparagus make me want to fire up the barbecue, pour myself a glass of something cold and refreshing, open up the doors and eat outside. Unfortunately October/November in Auckland is often not conducive to eating alfresco, unless you enjoy inopportune blasts of wind and rain…
That aside, asparagus feels like summer. The season is relatively short – local asparagus is only available from September to December in a good season. The heavy rain we’ve experienced this year has meant that we really haven’t seen local asparagus on supermarket shelves until October, and they have been much thinner stems than in prior years.
Vegetables.co.nz offers a couple of pieces of sage advice when it comes to selecting and storing asparagus:
“Choose straight firm green stems. Insist on fresh, clean product with trimmed ends and a minimum of white butt. Fresh asparagus is ‘squeaky’ – when the spears are gently rubbed they squeak; old asparagus is rubbery and doesn’t squeak.”
“Keep asparagus refrigerated with butt ends either wrapped in wet paper towels, stand up in a jar with 1-2 cm of water (like flowers in a vase), or alternatively wash, then refrigerate in plastic bags.”
So what makes asparagus good for you?
- It’s a fantastic source of folate, with 5 spears offering 34% of the RDI. Folate is an important element for the production of red blood cells, and cognitive development. It’s especially important for pregnant woment to aid with feotal development.
- It’s high in vitamins A, C, E and K. Vitamin A is important for organ function, C for immunity, E for red blood cell formation and K for for blood clotting.
- It’s high in antioxidants, and is one of the top ranked fruits or vegetables for antioxidant properties. Alongside the above vitamins, it also contains good amounts of beta-carotene, the minerals zinc, manganese, and selenium, and glutathione (GSH), which is linked with the breakdown of carcinogens and other free radicals.
- Of real interest is that it contains an element call inulin. Inulin has pre-biotic qualities, and is broken down in the large intestine, where it feeds our colonic bacteria. This makes asparagus valuable in aiding digestion. It’s also high in fibre.
To snap or not to snap?
A quick online search shows there’s quite a bit of debate around this one. I’ve always snapped the ends off my asparagus. Mostly it’s really fast and easy, since no utensils are required. One snap and you’re done.
There is a school of thought though, that this is a very imprecise method, and that you risk wasting quite a bit of the asparagus. An alternative is to trim the ends with a knife, or to peel the ends with a potato peeler to shave off the tough lower skins.
Blogger, One Creative Mommy, suggests that you don’t remove the ends from young asparagus, only if it’s mature, so the ends are woody.
Ultimately, I’m not sure there is a “right way”. It just depends how lazy you are (and I am).
A few ways with asparagus
- To be honest, I think the best way to eat asparagus is lightly steamed (for about 90 seconds in boiling salted water), dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of your best olive oil, a quick grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt.
- Make a mayonnaise or hollandaise for dipping
- For breakfast with boiled eggs, replace toast soldiers with steamed asparagus
- Wrap lightly steamed asparagus spears with strips of prosciutto to serve with drinks
- Alternatively, wrap asparagus in strips of streaky bacon, then grill until bacon is cooked
- Go old school and make asparagus rolls with fresh lightly steamed and cooled asparagus, fresh white bread (crusts off please!) and mayonnaise mixed with extra lemon juice.
- Add asparagus to your favourite green salad. To make this a meal, flake through some hot smoked salmon. Salmon and asparagus are brilliant bed mates.
- Brush asparagus with olive oil and grill on a hot barbecue until just charred. Squeeze over lemon juice and drizzle with olive oil and serve
Or try this recipe, which my mother used to make in the 80’s when she had ladies for lunch. In those days it was made with tinned asparagus, but I think it’s even better with fresh.
FOUR CHEESE AND ASPARAGUS MACARONI GRATIN
1 bunch fresh asparagus (approximately 12 stalks), blanched, cut into 5cm pieces
500g dried pasta (I used penne)
2 x bay leaves
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons thinly slice sage leaves, plus 12 extra
250g sour cream
150g blue cheese
100g ricotta cheese
100g mozzarella, grated (use an aged mozzarella, rather than fresh)
50g parmesan, finely grated
- Cook pasta in salted water until al dente (approximately 10 minutes, brand dependent)
- Heat milk and bay leaves until hot
- Melt butter in saucepan, add flour and cook 1 minute
- Whisk in hot milk and sage and keep whisking until thickened
- Whisk in sour cream, blue cheese, ricotta and mozarella
- Simmer until cheeses have melted
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
- Mix cheese sauce with asparagus and pasta
- Pour into baking dish and top with parmesan cheese and remaining sage leaves
- Cook in 200°C oven until golden (about 30 minutes)