Market Watch: Asparagus

155016090

155016090

Photo by: MmeEmil

MmeEmil

The arrival of asparagus at farmer’s markets makes it official: spring has finally sprung. Thick or thin, green, white, or even purple, asparagus reins supreme for a few short months — beginning in March or April, and ending sometime in early June.

It’s said that this member of the lily family was the favorite vegetable of Thomas Jefferson. King Louis XIV of France was another fan, referring to it as the “king of vegetables.” Today, it retains its hoity-toity reputation, with chefs devising entire tasting menus to showcase its bright, springy flavor. For home chefs, asparagus can lend a sophisticated feel to an ordinary weeknight dinner.

Asparagus facts

Closely related to garlic, onions, and leeks, asparagus is high in fiber, and a good source of iron, vitamin C and folate.

While thickness is a matter of taste, there’s no arguing about freshness. Choose stalks that are bright in color and firm, with tightly closed tips. Avoid any spears that are bent, or have open flowers. Wrap the ends of a bunch of asparagus in a wet paper towel, place in the crisper drawer and store up to three days. For best results, though, cook asparagus the same day you purchase it. In addition to tasting better, fresher asparagus will also retain more Vitamin C.

To prepare asparagus, rinse the spears first in cool water. To trim, hold a spear in both hands, placing your thumbs together where the stem looks woody and pale. Bend the stalk until it snaps. It should naturally break where the asparagus is tough. If you like, save the ends to throw into a vegetable stock. If you’re using white asparagus, you may want to use a vegetable peeler to trim away the tough skin from the base of each stalk.

What to do with asparagus

Probably the most common way to cook asparagus is to steam it — there are even steamer inserts and pots sold for this sole purpose, though they are certainly not necessary. Enlivened with a pat of butter and perhaps a squeeze of lemon and served alongside fish or chicken, steamed asparagus makes a simple and tasty side dish. But asparagus is hearty enough to stand up to a variety of different cooking methods. Roasting or grilling it will soften its slightly acidic bite and emphasize its sweet, earthy side.

Whatever you do, don’t just relegate this vegetable to the side-dish category. Tossed with pasta, a pinch of lemon zest, sliced scallions and a handful of Parmesan cheese, it serves as an elegant vegetarian main. It’s also a natural fit with fresh shelling peas or snap peas in risotto. To make a visually appealing soup, cook the sliced spears in a little chicken broth and puree with a touch of cream.

Asparagus is traditionally paired up with another symbol of spring, eggs. Try topping steamed asparagus with a shower of chopped hard-boiled eggs, minced shallots, and fresh herbs. Or incorporate it into a hearty frittata and serve with a fresh green salad for a light dinner or lunch.

Another common partner for asparagus is ham or prosciutto. Something about that long, pencil shape makes people want to wrap it with a slice of salty, cured pork. If you can resist that urge, you might try a healthier alternative: serve steamed asparagus with a just a sprinkling of minced ham, crisp bacon, or slivers of prosciutto and offer it up as an appetizer or side dish.

Even raw, asparagus holds it own. Shaved into long, thin pieces and dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, it makes an appealing salad.

Recipes to try:

Main courses

Side dishes

Abigail Chipley is a freelance recipe developer, writer and cooking teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Market Watch: Rainbow Chard

My CSA box is erupting with gigantic bunches of this leafy green veggie. This variety of Swiss chard has fluffy, tender green leaves and edible stems bursting with color and flavor.

Market Watch: Radishes

Don't underestimate the nutritional and culinary punch of the seemingly-humble radish.

Market Watch: Celery Root

This root veggie might look a bit unusual, but don’t let that scare you away from giving it a chance. Celery root (a.k.a. celeriac) is a delicious early fall treat.

Market Watch: Seasonal Tomatoes

Because we’re celebrating tomatoes this week, I went to my farmers' market and bought every kind of tomato I could find. Here’s how I made out.

Market Watch: Tomatillos

Here’s what to do with fresh tomatillos from the local farmers market.

Market Watch: Shell Beans

Also known as “cranberry” beans, these red and beige beauties are all over my market right now. They made an unusual addition to my summer succotash.

Market Watch: Green Peas

Green peas are sitting in natural little packages just waiting to be plucked. Visit your local farmers' market and dive into a basket of this spring treasure.

Market Watch: Fiddleheads

They sure are funny-looking, but fiddleheads are a truly unique market find. They’re only available for a few short weeks a year so get ‘em while you can!

Market Watch: Cauliflower

It may seem like a boring, ordinary veggie, but cauliflower has extraordinary flavor and it’s packed with nutrients – go snatch some up at your farmers market this week.

Market Watch: Red Currants

I found a gorgeous bounty of currant berries at the farmers' market. The only problem was that I had no idea what to do with them. Here is what I came up with.

On TV

Food Network Apps

In the Kitchen

Get over 70,000 FN recipes on all your mobile devices.

Facebook Messenger

Ask our bot for recipes, meal ideas and daily food trivia.

Amazon Echo

Just say "Alexa, enable Food Network skill" to get started.