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Decoding Spring Produce: Asparagus - Spears a Plenty

Decoding Spring Produce: Asparagus - Spears a Plenty

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So far we've only scratched the surface with what the spring has to offer. We've looked at stinging nettles previously, but now it's time to turn to more familiar fare. You may have not liked it growing up, but now that you're older, you've probably developed a taste for it and find it quite enjoyable. If not, it's in season now and worth giving another shot.

Asparagus

Once produce is picked, it starts to go through some biological changes. In some, the sugars in the produce turn to starches, muting the flavor of the fruit or vegetable. In some cases, growth continues after the produce has been picked. If the produce continues to grow off the plant, it is using whatever nutrients and moisture is left inside to grow. This means that the texture of the produce becomes tougher, the produce becomes drier, and the nutritional value goes down. Asparagus does this often in the off season, when the asparagus is usually imported. This helps explain why getting good asparagus in the off season can be pricey.

The asparagus season lasts from mid-April until July. Asparagus is native to most of Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. These are warmer climates that allow for the fibrous plant to still be tender when cooked. Asparagus is great for both hot and cold dishes. They also happen to be mineral rich, high in dietary fiber, and a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and K.

Asparagus Almondine

Side dish
Serves four

  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and spears cut in half
  • 1 Tbl butter (can substitute margarine)
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced or crushed almonds

1. In a medium-sized pot or large sauté pan, bring water with two heavy pinches of salt to a boil.

2. Cook the asparagus in boiling water for two minutes or until al dente.

3. While waiting for the asparagus to cook, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan.

4. Toss almonds in the sauté pan with the butter and olive oil. Lightly toast over low heat.

5. When the asparagus is ready, drain water thoroughly and place the asparagus in a serving dish.

6. Pour the toasted almonds and contents of the sauté pan over the asparagus.

7. Season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus Soup

Soup or Appetizer
Serves four to six

  • 1/2 cup white onion, small dice
  • 1/4 cup celery, small dice
  • 2 lbs asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into half-inch pieces
  • 1 qt low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp thyme, dry
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl butter (can substitute margarine)
  • Lemon juice to taste

1. In a large heavy pot, cook the small dice onion with olive oil and butter over medium heat until translucent.

2. Add the celery and thyme. Cook until the celery is soft.

3. Add the asparagus and cook until softened, stirring as needed.

4. Add the vegetable broth and simmer approximately 15 minutes or until the asparagus is very tender.

5. Purée the soup in a blender until smooth. It is best to do this in batches. Strain the puréed soup through a sieve for silkier texture if desired.

6. Add the half and half. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.

Grilled Asparagus and Portabella Salad

Salad
Serves four

  • 2 bunches of asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 2 portabella mushrooms
  • 1 Tbl red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbl Italian parsley, chopped
  • Shaved or grated parmesan cheese to garnish (optional)

1. Remove the stem of the portabella mushrooms and scoop out the gills with a spoon.

2. Placing the asparagus and the portabella mushrooms in separate bowls, toss each in a little kosher salt and 1 Tbl olive oil.

3. Grill the asparagus on a cleaned and pre-heated BBQ grill until a good grill line is visible. This will take approximately 2 minutes. The portabella mushrooms will take longer to grill than the asparagus; they're done when they feel soft all the way through.

4. Remove the asparagus and portabella mushrooms from grill and let cool on a platter for 5-10 minutes.

5. Slice the portabella mushrooms in half and then lengthwise into half-inch strips. Slice the asparagus in quarters to make them bite sized (approximately 1 1/2 inches).

6. Toss the portabella mushrooms and the asparagus together with red wine vinegar and pepper.

7. Add the picked thyme and chopped parsley. Toss together.

8. Use a vegetable peeler to shave parmesan as garnish.

Next up we're looking at another early season vegetable. This Mediterranean veggie looks a little rough around the edges but can be tamed with a little work.

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