Spring is an exciting time to shop your local farmers market for a wide variety of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables, especially asparagus. Although it’s available year round in the supermarket, this earthy, bright, nutrient-dense vegetable is at its peak flavor and freshness in the spring.
How to Choose Asparagus
Asparagus comes in different colors, shapes and sizes. If you’re buying common green asparagus, look for firm, plump, odor-free stalks that are not limp or wilted. Their tops should be tight and closed. When it comes to quality, it doesn’t matter how thick or thin the asparagus is, however, the texture and flavor can differ quite significantly: thin spears tend to be more intense in flavor and a bit tougher, while thick spears have more water content and can be more tender, depending on how you cook them.
How to Store and Prep Asparagus
To store asparagus, you can either wrap the trimmed ends in wet paper towels or keep them in a jar filled with one-to-two inches of water, then cover the asparagus with plastic and keep it in the refrigerator. For the best texture and flavor, cook your asparagus within three to four days.
When it’s time to prep, wash your asparagus thoroughly to remove any dirt and dry with a paper towel or clean dish towel. Then, begin by removing the bottom inch of each stalk — the bottoms tend to be a bit more fibrous than the rest of the plant. If your asparagus is particularly thick, you can trim off an additional inch from the bottom or remove the thicker bottom skin with a veggie peeler.
How to Cook Asparagus
Asparagus can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways. You can eat it cold in a crudité or salad without much prep at all. Simply cut your asparagus spears into pieces and serve as is, or you can steam or poach asparagus in boiling water and blanch it in ice water. Steamed and blanched asparagus has a mild and delicate flavor profile and tends to be a bit more tender and easier to bite into than raw asparagus. Blanching also helps preserve the bright green color.
Asparagus is also delicious grilled or roasted it in the oven, drizzled with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. (Cook it in a 400-425 F oven for 10-12 minutes.) Grilling or roasting thick asparagus stems gives them a mild, caramelized flavor and a delightful crisp texture. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese if you’re feeling fancy.
Asparagus also makes a delightful sauté, stir-fry, soup or frittata. Simply cut asparagus stalks horizontally into bite-sized pieces and add it to your favorite recipes. You’ll know the asparagus is cooked through when it is tender and easy to chew, but not rubbery or mushy.
Nutritional Benefits of Asparagus
Asparagus is a low-calorie, fat-free food rich in a variety of important nutrients, particularly vitamins C, A and K, folate, selenium and plant-based iron. Asparagus also contains the flavonoid compound quercetin, which is linked to decreased blood pressure and inflammation. Like other fresh vegetables, asparagus is a good source of gut-healthy dietary fiber.
Asparagus (1 cup, 134 grams, raw) contains:
- 27 calories
- 2.95 grams of protein
- 0 grams of fat
- 5.2 grams of carbohydrates
- 2.8 grams of dietary fiber (11 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 7.5 milligrams of vitamin C (13 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 69.7 micrograms of folate (17 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 55.7 micrograms of vitamin K (70 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 1013 IU of vitamin A (20 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 2.9 micrograms of iron (16 percent of the recommended daily value)
- 0.2 micrograms of manganese (11 percent of the recommended daily value)