Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Vegetable: Asparagus by Hayley J. and Clare M.

The first days of May are tiptoeing into Portland, finally bringing blue skies, fresh flowers, and most importantly, spring vegetables. After a winter stuffed with hearty bean stews and sweet potatoes, the palate craves the delicate flavor of pea shoots and salad greens. Although March offerings have been limited, in April, farmers’ markets blossom with arugula, spinach, fava beans, sugar snap peas, radishes, the first strawberries, and many more delicacies. 

Each vegetable has its advantages, from the earthy sweetness of beets to the peppery bite of mustard greens, but for my money, asparagus reigns as king of spring produce. Whether steamed until bright green and crisp-tender or grilled and drizzled with olive oil, asparagus’ sweet, grassy flavor and pleasantly fibrous texture never fail to delight. The versatile spears can be shaved raw and added to salads, lightly steamed and added to quiches or souffles, or tossed with linguine, Parmesan, and a softly-poached egg for a comforting weeknight meal. Not only does asparagus taste delicious, but according to the Eating Well magazine, this quintessential spring vegetable offers a bundle of nutritional benefits. Asparagus provides vitamins A, C, E, and K, and is also a very good source of fiber, as well as folate, a water-soluble B-vitamin that works in conjunction with B-12 to deter cognitive impairment (Forberg).  Asparagus also places high on the list of antioxidant-containing produce, helping to neutralize free radicals and prevent aging.

Most early springtime shipments of asparagus are from California, but later in May, look for Oregon and Washington varieties in local farmers’ markets. When shopping for asparagus, search for firm, pliable spears with a deep green color and tightly-clustered tips. Avoid any bunch that is mottled, limp, or dry and cracked. While chefs debate over the optimum thickness of asparagus, any diameter will suffice for the average shopper, as long as the spears are fresh and cooked appropriately (below, I have provided the links to a few of my favorite asparagus-centric recipes, thanks to Fine Cooking magazine). If you don’t feel like trekking out to the market or grocery store, this week Bon Appetít will be showcasing asparagus in a variety of tasty preparations. Check the salad bar, the vegetable selections, and even the daily soups for creative and delectable dishes that celebrate asparagus!

“This bright-green, fresh-tasting pesto is perfect for spreading on sandwiches, tossing with hot pasta, or slathering on crostini”

“The softly cooked egg yolks in this dish, which works well for breakfast, brunch, or a light dinner, become a delicious sauce for the toast and asparagus”

“This easy weeknight recipe is a complete one-dish meal. Cooking the pasta, peas, and asparagus together is efficient, and adding goat cheese at the end creates a creamy sauce”

“Chimichurri—a garlicky Argentinian herb sauce—is traditionally made with parsley as the primary herb. Here, the addition of fresh tarragon makes it an ideal partner for meaty grilled asparagus. Throw some steaks on the grill while you make the sauce, and dinner is done”

Forberg, Cheryl. "Five Powerful Health Benefits of Asparagus You Probably Didn't Know." Eating Well. Meredith Corporation, 11 Apr 2011. Web. 2 Apr 2013. <>.

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