Star Ingredient

Star Ingredient: Asparagus

Make way for this week’s Star Ingredient…Asparagus!  I’ve always thought of asparagus as fancy…you see it at all the right parties, it has a unique shape and once upon a time it was classified in the lily family until it got its very own Family, Asparagaceae…heck, even its own Order, Asparagales!  While stories of its origins vary, its native range included most of Europe and western temperate Asia.  It has been used for food, in medicine and even as an aphrodisiac!  It was pictured on an Egyptian frieze, loved by Greeks who ate it fresh when in season & dried it for use in winter and one Roman emperor created the “Asparagus Fleet” with the specific purpose of hauling the vegetable!  It came to North America with the Dutch in 1655 and William Penn even mentioned it in an advertisement for Pennsylvania as a crop that grew well in the American climate!  So, definitely a Veggie Star for a long time! 

Fascinating!  Is There More?

Why yes…yes, there is!  Only young asparagus shoots are commonly eaten because they quickly turn woody.  And no…thickness and thinness are NOT an indication of tenderness or toughness.  Plants bearing seeds produce spears that are smaller and thinner; plants without seeds produce larger and thicker spears.  The stalks are thick or thin from the moment they sprout from the ground.  It usually takes 3 seasons for an asparagus plant to be ready to harvest but the wait is so worth it!  Asparagus plants can be viable for ten to twenty years, too!  One more neat fact and then I’ll move on to nutrition…asparagus is said to be a useful companion plant for tomatoes as the tomato plant will repel the asparagus beetle and in return the asparagus will repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants.

Now Let’s Talk Nutrition!

Didjaknow that water makes up 93% of asparagus’s composition?  It’s a good source of Vitamins B6, C, E & K and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, beta-carotene, iron, potassium, selenium, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that regulates the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.  It’s low in calories and eating asparagus helps with weight loss, improved digestion, healthier pregnancies and lower blood pressure.  And, thanks to its ability to break down toxins in the liver, asparagus even works as an excellent hangover remedy, reducing alcohol toxicity by increasing liver enzymes and encouraging healthy liver function.  Now that’s what I call a veggie that goes above and beyond being good for you!

Taking Care Of This Week’s Star!

Asparagus, like most veggies, tastes best when cooked the day you buy it.  If that’s not going to happen, no problem.  Treat them like you would store cut flowers…trim the bottoms and stand the spears up in a glass jar with about an inch of water at the bottom!  If you put a plastic bag over the top of the spears it can last up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

How To Prepare This Week’s Star!

You can pretty much cook asparagus any which way imaginable…boiling, steaming, grilling, roasting, sauteing, broiling and pan-roasting are just some of the ways to make the tender green spears pop with flavor.  The way you cook it is all dependent on what taste experience you’re going for and what is most convenient.  Asparagus really doesn’t need more than a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt & pepper…but it pairs wonderfully with richer sauces like hollandaise or getting wrapped up in prosciutto, too!  And don’t be afraid to enjoy asparagus raw!  Fresh asparagus spears have an irresistible sweet and snappy texture…cooking them just unlocks new flavors.

So there you have it…everything you need to know about asparagus.  The only thing left is to getting some…which we’ve made that easy since you’ll get a bunch in your Market Box this week!  Enjoy!

-Johnny Kat