Asparagus, a Delicious Spring Crop

Sautéed, Steamed, Grilled, or Raw – a Versatile and Delicious Spring Treat

Tender young asparagus spears
Tender young asparagus spears

 

When I was a kid I wouldn’t touch asparagus with a ten-foot stick. Now I love asparagus, especially since we grow our own.

Asparagus Officinalis is a member of the lily family, and there are male and female plants. While both male and female plant will go to fern only the stalk of the female plant will produce bright red berries in the summer, which are the seed pods.

Originally from southern Europe, asparagus is now widely cultivated in the United States, Russia, England, Poland, and France. However, China is the world leader in asparagus production.

Asparagus has been cultivated in the United States since the mid 1800s with California, Michigan,and Washington as the main growers. Sadly, acreage devoted to asparagus is decreasing, down from about 50,000 acres in 2004 to about 25,000 acres in 2012.

If you aren’t growing it buy asparagus with nice, even green coloration. White should be a consistent creamy color to the tips, which tastes the same, will may slightly purple. In either case look for firm stalks with tightly closed tips. Open tips indicate it is getting ready to go to fern when picked.

Because it’s a hand harvested crop it can sometimes be a costly vegetable. This is reason enough to grow your own asparagus. This Asparagus from seed post shows how we planted ours from seed. Although it takes two to thee years to get to picking size your beds can produce spears for as long as 15 years! An asparagus plant will send up new spears for as long as seven weeks and, under perfect conditions, spears can grow as much as ten inches (25.4 cm) in 24 hours. We can almost see it growing in our 39 plant bed. What’s more, it’s a pretty much hands off vegetable with only the occasional weeding needed and chopping off the ferns in the fall. We add these to our compost pile and while woody they will compost rather quickly.

To get only the tender part of the asparagus hold the bottom at the woody end and about two thirds the way up the stalk and bend it. The spear will break nicely at the junction of though to tender. The woody ends can be saved for soup. If you choose to you can also eat the whole stalks by just lightly peeling the lower woody end with a vegetable peeler before cooking.

Although asparagus should be eaten as soon as possible after picking, it can be kept somewhat fresh by standing it upright in about an inch (2.5 cm) of cold water in the fridge. We get about four or five days out of spears this way, provided we don’t eat them first. If they go droopy soak them in ice water to restore their firmness and cook immediately. Frankly our asparagus is eaten way before it gets iffy in the fridge. Joanne and I usually use them straight away for the freshest taste, sometime snacking on the freshly cut spears as we are harvesting.

You can freeze asparagus by blanching it for several minutes. Separate the spears into similar sizes and blanch for about two minutes for thin stalks, and four minutes for thick stalks. Medium size would blanch for three minutes. The trick is to get the water back to boiling as quickly as possible so use high heat. After blanching immediately put them in ice water to cool off. Dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels and put in freezer bags or vacuum seal them…but make sure they are dry. You can also put blanched stalks on a sheet pan and freeze them, packing them after they have frozen. This helps prevent them from sticking together as a lump of frozen asparagus so you can use partial bags. However you do it make sure you cook the frozen spears, do not thaw them or they will get mushy.

We make soup and freeze it for winter meals and it reminds us that spring will come again. But one of our favorite ways to eat it is by tossing it in olive oil, season it with some salt and pepper then grilling it until it barely has grill marks.

Asparagus Soup
 
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We use this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. It was one of the first we tried and we found it was our favorite as well.
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds fresh asparagus, rinsed
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup minced shallots
  • 1 cup minced leeks, whites only, well rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan, garnish
Instructions
  1. Trim the attractive top tips from the asparagus, about 1 to 1½ inches in length. Cut the woody stem ends from each spear and reserve. Cut the remaining tender stalks into ½-inch pieces.
  2. In a medium pot, bring the stock to a boil. Add the tough woody stems, lower the heat and simmer to infuse with asparagus flavor, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and discard, reserving the stock.
  3. Add the decorative tips to the stock and blanch until tender, 1 to 1½ minutes. Remove with a strainer and refresh in an ice water bath. Drain on paper towels and reserve for the garnish. Reserve the stock.
  4. In a medium stockpot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When foamy, add the shallots and leeks and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped asparagus stalks, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth and simmer until the asparagus are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  5. With a hand-immersion blender or in batches in a food processor, puree the soup until smooth. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. If serving right away, return to medium heat and add the cream and reserved asparagus tips. Cook, stirring, until the soup is warmed through, about 3 minutes.
  6. Alternatively, if serving the soup later, do not add the cream and let cool at room temperature (or in an ice water bath). Cover and refrigerate. Before serving, add the cream and asparagus tips, and warm the soup gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  7. To serve, place the soup in a soup tureen and sprinkle with cheese. Ladle into demi-tasse cups or small coffee or tea cups, and serve.

 
Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Asparagus
 
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There are many variations of aspargus in chicken breasts but this is our favorite. It's relatively quick to make and clean up is easy.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 6 chicken breasts without skin -- pounded to ¼ inch or ⅔ cm
  • 3 dozen asparagus spears
  • Coating
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ cup dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic -- finely chopped
  • ⅛ cup white wine
  • 1½ cups bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon parmesan cheese -- grated
  • 2 tablespoons parsley -- chopped fine
  • Blend the butter, mustard, wine and garlic. Dip the chicken into this mixture to coat them. Place 6 asparagus spears on each breast and roll, securing with a toothpick. Roll in bread cumb mixture and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.
Instructions
  1. Blend the butter, mustard, wine and garlic. Dip the chicken into this mixture to coat them. Place 6 asparagus spears on each breast and roll, securing with a toothpick. Roll in bread cumb mixture and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.

 

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