When you see the first bundles of asparagus at the farmers market you know that spring is really here! Expect to find this eagerly anticipated vegetable at farmers markets in April and May on the west coast, and from about May to July on the east coast.
The juicy spears are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, and B vitamins including folate. You’ll get the sweetest flavor and most nutrients if you buy asparagus fresh and use it right away. When choosing, look for smooth, mostly green stalks, with tightly closed tips and fresh-looking cut ends.
Many people swear by snapping off the ends of asparagus stalks. But since you stand to lose a lot of the stalk that way, a better option is to just trim the ends and then peel the base of the stalk if the skin is tough. If you choose slender, fresh stalks, the skin is often tender enough that this step isn’t necessary, but thicker stalks will benefit from having the fibrous skin peeled away before cooking.
Simple is best when it comes to preparing asparagus. Whole spears can be quickly blanched by plunging them into boiling water for a minute or two, just until crisp tender and bright green. Then add just a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. Or try roasting asparagus with olive oil and sea salt. Here are a few other simple ways to enjoy this sweet spring vegetable:
- Cut spears into 2-inch lengths on the diagonal and sauté or stir-fry with shrimp or tofu.
- Blanch or steam cut asparagus and add to scrambled eggs near the end of the cooking time, along with chives and a little grated Parmesan.
- Arrange cooked whole asparagus on a platter with blood orange segments and endive spears and sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.
- Cut asparagus horizontally into little coins then sauté until just tender. Toss cooked pieces with pasta, olive oil, and Pecorino cheese, or stir into risotto near the end of the cooking time.
Recipe: Orzo with Salmon, Asparagus, and Basil
12 ounce salmon fillet, skin and bones removed
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pound bunch asparagus
12 ounces whole wheat orzo
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 400°. Place salmon in a baking pan. Drizzle the salmon with about a tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until no longer opaque in the center, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a fork to break into bite-sized pieces.
Trim the stem ends from asparagus and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch lengths.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus to the water and cook 1 to 2 minutes, just until tender and bright green. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the pasta and boil for 8 to 10 minutes until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/4 cup cooking water, and return to the pot. Stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, lemon zest, the asparagus, and the salmon.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and moisten with a bit of the reserved cooking water if desired. Stir in the basil and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings