Everything You Need To Know About Asparagus
Asparagus has a distinct flavour, and has been popular for thousands of years. In Ontario, locally grown asparagus is typically available from May to June, so keep an eye out during these months! This long, slender vegetable is a perennial plant and a member of the lily family.
Did you know? Under ideal growing conditions, an asparagus shoot or spear can grow up to 25 cm (10″) in a 24-hour period?!
Green asparagus is the most common type sold in Canadian grocery stores. These spears gain their beautiful green colour from direct sunlight, and can sometimes have purple tinged tips.
Another variety you might not be as familiar with is white asparagus, which is more popular than the green kind in some European countries. White asparagus is grown from the same seeds as green asparagus, but they remain white because they are grown under soil. This prevents them creating chlorophyll, the naturally occurring chemical which turns plants green.
White asparagus is usually thicker and smoother than the green variety, and has a milder flavour. It can also be more fibrous than other varieties, so it may take longer to cook.
There is also a purple variety of asparagus called Viola. These large burgundy spears have a creamy white interior, and are sweeter than other varieties. Viola asparagus is not typically available in mainstream grocery stores.
How to Select and Store Asparagus
When buying asparagus, look for firm, bright green (or pale ivory) spears with tight tips. Avoid buying spears that are limp, wrinkled, or have partially open tips. These are all signs that the asparagus isn’t fresh.
In stores, asparagus is presented standing upright in a tray with water to keep it fresh. At home, replicate this by storing asparagus with their ends wrapped in a damp cloth (or paper towel) and place in a perforated plastic bag. Alternatively, trim an inch from the asparagus stalks and set them upright in a short drinking glass filled with an inch or two of water. Cover the spears by inverting an open ziptop baggie over them. Both methods should keep your asparagus fresh for 5 to 7 days in your refrigerator.
To freeze asparagus, wash thoroughly and trim stem ends slightly. Leave spears whole or cut into 2-inch lengths. Blanch in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, plunge immediately in ice water to halt the cooking process. Drain well and pack in plastic freezer bags or containers leaving no excess air space. Seal, label and freeze at 0°F / -18°C. Use within eight months for best quality. Do not defrost before cooking.
How to Prepare Asparagus
Be sure to wash asparagus thoroughly before using, to remove any sand or grit.
Asparagus spears can be dry and tough at the bottom. To trim the spears, use a sharp knife to slice off an inch from the bottom. Alternatively, you can bend the bottom part of a spear until the woody part snaps off. If the stalk seems tough or woody, you can peel the end with a vegetable peeler.
Asparagus can be sliced into 1-inch pieces for a stir-fry, chopped into small pieces for pasta, or just left whole. Another option is to slice asparagus into paper-thin pieces, using a vegetable peeler or mandolin; a delicious addition to salads.
Yield: 1 pound of asparagus = 16 to 20 spears, or approximately 2 cups chopped
You can cook asparagus by steaming, boiling, microwaving, oven roasting, or stir-frying:
How to Boil: Bring water to boil in a skillet or saucepan. Carefully add asparagus to pan and continue to boil uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well.
How to Microwave: Place 1 lb. washed asparagus spears in a microwave-safe dish. Add 2 tbsp. water and cover. Cook at HIGH for 4 to 6 minutes, rearranging spears once so bottom spears are moved to top until tender crisp. Keep covered until ready to serve.
How to Steam: Lay asparagus in a steamer basket and place over boiling water in a saucepan. Cover and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, until asparagus is tender-crisp.
How to Stir-fry: Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces and cook in skillet or wok, using 1 to 2 tbsp. of butter or oil, for 5 to 7 minutes.
How to Roast: Arrange 1 or 2 lbs. of asparagus spears in a single layer in a large shallow baking dish. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, at 425 °F (218 °C) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender, but slightly firm to the bite. To replicate the same method on the BBQ, use a piece of aluminum foil to cover the grates.
- Asparagus trimmings can be used in stocks or broths.
- As asparagus cooks it will turn bright green, this is the indication that your asparagus is tender crisp and ready to eat.
- Remove asparagus from heat just before you think it’s done. The residual cooking heat will continue cooking them for 30 – 60 seconds longer.
- To prepare asparagus ahead of time, try blanching it. Cook until it is almost done, then quickly plunge it into an ice bath. Then all you have to do is heat it up when you are ready to serve.
- Save your leftover asparagus. It is perfect for chopping up and is easily added to a hearty egg, rice, or pasta dish for a meal the next day.
Herbs, Spices & Sauces: Dijon mustard, basil, dill, parsley, pepper, nutmeg, tarragon, chives, sesame, ginger, olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, hollandaise sauce
Produce: lemon, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, spinach, lime, leek, onion, radish, peas, and potato
Savoury: eggs, prosciutto, salmon, bacon, quinoa, rice, pasta, bulgur, and farro
Dairy: butter, basil, cream, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese
Asparagus Serving Ideas
- Asparagus lends itself to many dishes. It is delicious topped with eggs, tossed into salads, served as an appetizer, cooked into curries and stir-fries, and it’s even excellent when served with just a simple dressing. For more ideas, here are 31 Savoury Asparagus Recipes.
- A simple vinaigrettetastes great on steamed, grilled, or boiled asparagus.
- Asparagus can be transformed into a crispy appetizer when breaded. Try making Breaded Asparagus Spears with Smoked Maple Bacon Dip for a crunchy, smoky and sweet snack!
- This asparagus, prosciutto and goat cheese frittata is the ideal item for a spring brunch menu.
- Switch things up on #TacoTuesday, and serve asparagus and chicken enchiladas instead of your usual tacos.
Asparagus is rich in nutrients, making it a great choice for today’s health-conscious consumer. According to the Canadian Nutrient File, 100 g of boiled green asparagus contains a the following of your daily-recommended intake of nutrients: 68% of folate, 63% of Vitamin K, 13% of Vitamin C, 12% of selenium, 10% of Vitamin A, 8% of fibre (2 g), 7% of iron, 6% of magnesium, 6% of potassium, 6% of zinc, 6% of niacin, 4% of Vitamin B-6, and 770 µg of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, and 30 µg of the antioxidant lycopene.