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Image: Pixabay

Spring is just around the corner, and believe it or not, asparagus is coming into season. Hothouse asparagus is available year-round but it's best to buy some while it's naturally in season and enjoy the fresh taste. Records of this healthy vegetable dates back 2,500 years to ancient Greece. The Greeks thought asparagus could cure toothaches. The Romans also grew asparagus in their courtyards. It's been grown in England since the 1500s and began to gain popularity in China and North America in the 1800s.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family. Green asparagus is the best-known type here, but white asparagus, which is produced by burying the shoots under soil so they don't get any light, is more prevalent in Europe. Asparagus is a good source of Vitamins B1, B2, C and K, copper, folate, selenium and fiber.

How to Buy and Store Asparagus

Choose tender, firm stalks with closed tips. There is a smaller ratio of skin to volume if you get larger stalks, which means smaller doesn't necessarily mean more tender. Asparagus is best eaten the day you buy it because it loses its flavor quickly. If you are going to store it though, keep the bottoms of the stalks wrapped with damp paper towels in the refrigerator. It will be fine for two or three days. When you are ready to cook it, snap or cut off the woody ends first.

Recipe Ideas for Fresh Asparagus

This spring vegetable is really versatile. You can steam, boil, fry, roast, microwave or grill it. Remember overcooking most vegetables turns them to mush, and there are few things worse than limp asparagus, so aim for crisp-tender! This vegetable is traditionally paired with hollandaise sauce, but it's also good with olive oil, parmesan and black pepper. Try asparagus in your next risotto, pasta bake, omelet, casserole, tart, quiche or soup recipe. It's great roasted or steamed as a simple side dish, and it pairs equally well with red and white meat, fish and seafood. Wrap asparagus in prosciutto or bacon before cooking if you want to add a meaty flavor. Leftover cooked asparagus spears can be chopped and added to a salad.

Pixabay photo 1 vpnl5e

Image: Pixabay

In a Starring Role at: Quattro

Head downtown and enjoy the wonderful Italian fare Quattro has to offer. You have several options if you want to enjoy seasonal asparagus. Consider the green asparagus risotto which is made with sun-dried tomatoes, or the smoke-roasted salmon which is paired with asparagus, beets and a pancetta vinaigrette. Another great choice would be the double lamb chop with sweet potato and fresh asparagus. Any of those will satisfy your asparagus craving!

Recipe: Roasted Asparagus with Parmesan and Oregano

If you're pan-frying some fish, chicken or meat for dinner and you want to streamline your side dishes, make this easy roasted asparagus recipe. All you need to do is pop the prepared asparagus spears in the oven for about 6 minutes or until crisp-tender, so you only have to watch one pan on the stove. You can microwave some potatoes to round out the meal. Here, we are flavoring this spring vegetable with salt, pepper and oregano, and adding some Parmesan for a nice flavor contrast. If you usually steam or fry your asparagus, give this recipe a go instead and see which cooking method you prefer.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green asparagus 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the asparagus, then snap off the woody ends and discard them. Combine the oil with the salt, oregano and pepper, then toss the asparagus in this mixture. Grease a 15-by-10-inch baking pan and arrange the asparagus spears in there. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top, then roast for about 6 minutes or until crisp-tender.

Stay tuned every week to learn more about what's fresh and exciting at the market and discover where you can enjoy the flavorful bounty of the season.

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