After weeks of anticipation, asparagus spears have finally appeared in my garden! The spears are about two to three weeks late this year due to our late spring and cold ground temperatures. But they are here now and ready to enjoy!
Whether asparagus is home grown in the garden or purchased at the supermarket or Farmer’s Market, fresh asparagus season is short. Here are some tips to help you select, store, and prepare asparagus to maximize the season.
Green is the most common color of asparagus. However, it can also be purple or white. White asparagus is the same as green asparagus; it just hasn’t been allowed to see light so photosynthesis hasn’t taken place. The green shoots are covered to prevent light getting to them. White asparagus has a very mild flavor and because of the extra effort to blanch it, it is usually more costly.
Peak season is usually mid-April to early/mid-June in the Midwest depending upon the season. When the temperatures warm in June, the spears begin to get spindly indicating it is time to stop harvesting and let the plants mature into their fern-like foliage.
Select stalks that are smooth, uniform in color, and have compact tips. Avoid stalks that are shriveled, limp, or have open, seedy tips. These are signs of age. Do a sniff test; old asparagus gets smelly fast.
Asparagus is best used fresh. Store asparagus spears in the refrigerator with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the stalk ends in shallow water. Loosely cover with plastic. If the asparagus has been purchased at the market, cut the stalk ends about an inch back before wrapping or placing in shallow water. Don’t allow the water to get cloudy. Asparagus will keep well in the refrig for a week using one of these methods.
Wash and remove the woody stems prior to cooking or fresh use by gently bending the stalk until the woody part snaps away naturally. Peeling is a personal option; some people like to peel the lower stalk if they are 1/2 -in or larger as they lower stems may be a little tougher.
Asparagus can be prepared in any number of ways–broiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, sautéed–or used fresh in salads. Asparagus can also be par-cooked and quickly cooled for use in salads. Whatever cooking method is used, the cooking time is short.
Asparagus is nutritious. It is high in fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins K, E, A, and C. Because it is a good source of vitamin K, the amount eaten may need to be monitored by those who are on blood thinning medications. Asparagus does not contain fat or cholesterol and is very low in calories–just 4 calories per spear.
Make the most of asparagus season while it’s here!