What’s on the Market – Spotlight on Asparagus

Asparagus. The vegetable that looks like little trees and makes your pee smell funny. Oh, it’s not that bad…

Asparagus is a spring vegetable that grows perennially, which means that they grow in the spring, die in the winter and grow back again the next spring without planting. The plants grow from the seed that was stored in the ground. (If you’ve noticed all the pretty daffodils and tulips that have been popping up around campus, those are perennials!)

Only young asparagus is edible because once the buds begin opening, the stalks get very woody, and the flavor gets a lot stronger. Asparagus is very low in calories and sodium. It is high in Vitamins B6, A, C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, zinc, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorous, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium and chromium and is a very good source of dietary fiber. Yikes, periodic table coming your way. But it’s a good thing!

There are several varieties of asparagus, the most common being the green asparagus that is typically seen in grocery stores and white asparagus. White asparagus is white because of the way it is grown. It’s cultivated using a process called “hilling,” where the plant itself is actually buried in soil to prevent photosynthesis. The taste is apparently sweeter and the stalks are much more tender.

When shopping for asparagus, it’s best to look for stalks that are not huge. Normally when we go shopping we try and buy the biggest of whatever we are buying, but with asparagus it’s not that way. Smell the tips to make sure it’s not old or rotting. Then bag ’em up, take them home and eat them very sooner than later. Asparagus doesn’t last forever!

There are many ways to prepare asparagus, but prep all starts the same way. The way that works best for me is to rinse all the spears under cold water and then break the bottom off (versus cutting). The woody ends naturally break off, leaving the tender stalks without dirtying any knives or cutting boards.

From there, they can be roasted, sautéed, stir fried, you name it. Asparagus is used in appetizers occasionally and is wrapped in bacon. In some places it is common to see asparagus topped with a poached egg, hollandaise sauce or both! They’re great in omelettes, frittatas, pasta, paired with seafood or meat.

The easiest way definitely has to be roasting. Just throw them on a cookie sheet (lined with foil to ensure easy cleanup), drizzle with olive oil and pop them in the oven. If you put them in when you start making dinner, they’ll be done before you will be!

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