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Friday, May 7, 2010


Asparagus is a delicious vegetable with long, tender shoots that are generally categorized as white, purple and green varieties, all belonging to a plant in the lily family. The shoots of the green or white variety are usually harvested when the stalks reach a height of 8 inches and are 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  

Green asparagus is traditionally the most common variety, while purple or white asparagus is usually available on a limited basis in specialty markets.

White asparagus is grown underneath a mound of dirt that keeps the stalks from turning green. Once it emerges from the ground, the stalks are harvested. The white variety has less flavor then the green or purple. The purple variety is generally harvested when the stalks reach a height of approximately 3 inches. Once cooked, this asparagus provides a somewhat distinctive fruity flavor.

This vegetable has small leaves that look like scales tightly packed near the tips, which are especially popular because of their soft to crunchy texture and mild flavor.

Asparagus can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, pickled, or served cold. It makes an enjoyable appetizer, or a good complement to salads, vegetable dishes, and soups. Asparagus can also be pureed to be used for soups and soufflés.

When selecting asparagus, choose stalks that are firm and crisp with heads that are full and not discolored.

Asparagus is very perishable. Fresh asparagus will last about 3 to 4 days while blanched asparagus can last for 9 months in the freezer. Do not wash asparagus before storing. Wash it just before using. To store fresh asparagus, wrap the stalks in a damp cloth and place in a plastic bag that is not airtight. Airtight bags will trap moisture, causing the asparagus to become soggy. Fresh asparagus can also be stored by trimming an inch off the stem end, wrapping ends with a wet paper towel and then stand the spears upright in a glass or upright container filled with a couple of inches of water. Place a loose plastic bag over the spear tips and store in the refrigerator

Steaming: An asparagus steamer is a type of cookware designed for preparing asparagus. The asparagus steamer consists of a long and narrow wire basket, a steaming pot, and a lid. The wire basket holds a large quantity of asparagus upright. The upright position allows the hard, woody stems to cook in approximately 2 inches of boiling water while the tips of the asparagus gently steam. Water is placed in the bottom of the steaming pot and brought to a boil. The asparagus stalks are arranged in the wire basket (spears upward) and lowered into the boiling water. When the spears become just tender, the basket is removed and the water is drained away. The asparagus steamer also steams a variety of other foods such as potatoes, broccoli, corn, carrots, artichokes, and shellfish.

Boiling: Fill a large pot with water and add salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus. Steam asparagus until crisp tender, about 2-6 minutes. Remove the asparagus and place on paper towels; pat dry before serving.

Grilling: To keep asparagus from sticking to the grill, spray grill grates with a no-stick spray.

Blanche off the asparagus before grilling. Place spears in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Remove asparagus and submerge in ice water to halt cooking.

Place asparagus on the grill perpendicular to bars of the grate so the spears do not fall through. Leave a bit of space between asparagus stalks.

Grill until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes, turning once.

Oven Roasting: Preheat oven to 450. Spread spears on a large cookie sheet and avoid crowding. Drizzle with olive oil, rolling spears slightly to coat. Oven roast for about 10 - 15 minutes, occasionally shaking tray to ensure even browning.

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