Asparagus is one of the first signs of the arrival of spring. The name asparagus comes from the Greek language meaning “sprout” or “shoot” and is a member of the lily family. It is a perennial garden vegetable, native to the East Mediterranean area, cultivated from antiquity and now grown in much of the world. The stems function as a leaves and the leaves are reduced to scales. Asparagus is harvested when the spears are about nine inches long with compact, tight heads.
Asparagus is offered in the traditional green color as well as the purple and white spears. There are thick and thin spear varieties. All provide health benefits. Asparagus is high in folic acid and an excellent source of fiber. It also provides vitamins B6, A and C as well as thiamin.
When grown without exposure to light, asparagus lacks the pigment chlorophyll. Purple asparagus contains anthocyanins, a group of phytochemicals that supply plants with a blue-purple color. Some scientific studies show that anthocyanins act as antioxidants and may provide cancer-protective benefits. Anthocyanins are somewhat heat sensitive; therefore, the color will fade when cooked.
Asparagus has been prized by foodies since ancient Rome. Ancient Romans considered asparagus to be a delicacy and valued it for its ease of preparation. The story goes that when Romans used the phrase “as quick as cooking asparagus”, they wanted something done speedily. That same thought still goes for preparing asparagus. It is important not to overcook asparagus. The thickness of the spear determines the cooking time. Cook asparagus until a knife can just be inserted into the thickest part of the spear.
When choosing asparagus, choose purple-green and tightly closed spears. If you must store asparagus, treat it as you would treat a cut flower. Trim the stems and stand them in a glass with one to two inches of water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days or until ready to use.
There are endless possibilities for preparing asparagus. I prefer to keep mine simple. Now my favorite is roasted asparagus with balsamic browned butter sauce. It appeared several years ago in Cooking Light magazine. Some of their readers rate it as the best asparagus recipe ever. Now how is that for an endorsement? And, everyone I give this recipe to loves it. Check it out at http://bit.ly/WWopE
Also try this recipe for asparagus with lemon butter.
Asparagus with Lemon Butter
Serves 4 to 6.
1 pound fresh asparagus
2 Tablespoons butter
1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, depending on your taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel or break off the tough lower ends of stems. Cook asparagus in a wide 6 to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Drain well in a colander, return to pot and toss with butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Note: I usually cook asparagus in a large skillet. I find that with a skillet it is easier to get all the asparagus submerged.