“The Healthy Gourmet”

April 14, 2011

Asparagus — Besides the dogwoods and azaleas, seeing asparagus in the grocery store is another sure sign of spring.   Asparagus first appears in an affordable price range in February, but the really tasty asparagus (and the best priced!) rolls into our markets in April and May.  You can enjoy frozen asparagus year round, and I suppose there are some who may enjoy canned asparagus year round (personally I think canned asparagus is far too limp and droopy), but nothing beats the fresh stuff!

Asparagus has been around for a long time and was noted in early times for its medicinal benefits.  As far back as the second century, physicians and healers referred to asparagus as “cleansing and healing”, which was not a bad observation since asparagus has diuretic properties, its high fiber content gives it laxative qualities, and it has properties that neutralize ammonia in our bodies which can make us tired.  In addition, asparagus is a low-calorie source of Vitamins B6 and C, folate,  potassium, and its stalks are high in antioxidants.

Spears of asparagus can be thick or thin and some people prefer one kind over another but size is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Thicker spears may have tougher, woodier ends, but these are broken off before cooking anyway. The key is to select straight, firm, uniformly sized spears with closed tips. Since asparagus deteriorates rapidly, it’s important to select bundles that are refrigerated or on ice. For the same reason, asparagus should be used within two or three days of purchase, preferably sooner. If you do need to keep asparagus for a day or two, the best way is to place the spears upright in a bowl of cold water. Alternatively, you can wrap the ends of the spears in a damp paper towel and refrigerate them.

No essay on asparagus is complete without mentioning its effects on the smell of human urine.  Suffice to say that many studies have been done on the subject, and apparently the majority of humans produce urine with a distinctive, but temporary, odor after consuming asparagus; however, not everyone has the gene(s) needed to detect the smell that asparagus produces in urine.  And by the way:  the onset of the odor is quite fast, with reports of the odor occurring within 15 to 30 minutes of eating asparagus.

If you are a gardener, consider companion planting tomatoes with asparagus:  the tomato plants repel the asparagus beetle, while the asparagus plants may repel some harmful root nematodes that can affect tomatoes.

There are some great asparagus recipes included but asparagus by its “plain old self” is delicious.  If you choose to go the purist route, you can steam, boil, roast, blanch, microwave, stir fry or grill asparagus – the key is to do it quickly so as not to overcook the asparagus.  If steaming, 5 to 6 minutes should suffice; if boiling be sure to not exceed 4 minutes.   Roasting in the oven with a bit of olive or canola oil drizzled over it takes about 10 -13 minutes in a 450 oven, and grilling over medium-high heat (be sure to coat the grill with oil first) should take 5 – 8 minutes and you need to be sure to turn it often.  Just be sure to not overcook or you will end up with the mushy stuff that is like canned asparagus!

Ok, on to some recipes with more than just asparagus — enjoy!

Potato and Asparagus Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 tsp olive o
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white part only)
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups fat-free reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add asparagus, onion, celery, leeks and potato, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth and simmer for 20 minutes, until vegetables are softened.
    1. Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. (Be careful!  Blending hot liquids may cause the soup to explode out the top of the blender, causing a mess and maybe hurting you.) You may need to blend the soup in two stages due to its volume.
    2. Return soup to Dutch oven, add sour cream and stir on low heat until blended.
    3. Serve topped with some fresh chopped chives, or some diced cherry tomatoes.

Low Fat Cream of Asparagus Soup

Serves 6

Per Serving:  102  Calories, 1.8 g fat (.03 g Sat Fat, 376 mg Sodium, 3.8 g Fiber, 4.8 g Protein

Grilled Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto           

Serves 10 

 

  • 20 asparagus spears, medium to large, tough ends broken off and washed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • Fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 20 slices prosciutto1.  Place asparagus and all of ingredients except for prosciutto, in a microwavable dish and cook for 2 minutes. Let cool enough to handle.
    2.  Preheat grill to high.
    3.  When asparagus has cooled enough to handle wrap each spear, including some of the seasoning, with one slice of prosciutto. Repeat with all spears.
    4.  Grill wrapped spears, turning frequently to brown and crisp each side of the prosciutto.

 

Asparagus and Crab Salad

Serves 10

Per Serving:  173 Calories, 10.3 g Fat, 652 mg Sodium

  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound bacon strips, diced
  • 1 pound imitation crabmeat, flaked
  • 4 hearts of palm, drained and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  1. Preheat an oven to 430 degrees F (225 degrees C).
  2. Toss the asparagus, tomatoes, and olive oil together in a bowl until the vegetables are evenly coated; season with salt and pepper. Pour into a baking dish; sprinkle 1 minced clove of garlic over the mixture.
  3. Roast in the preheated oven until tender, about 9 minutes. Set aside to cool. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces.
  4. Cook the bacon in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings in the skillet. Add the crabmeat to the hot bacon drippings and cook until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl; add the asparagus, tomatoes, and hearts of palm.
  5. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and minced garlic clove together in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle the bacon over the salad just before serving.

 

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