I won’t say that I’ve been eating enough asparagus lately to make my pee smell (because I’m a lady and I don’t talk about that sort of thing), but I have been eating a lot of asparagus.* Asparagus is the quintessential spring vegetable, in my opinion. It even looks like a bud on a stem, getting ready to flower. That’s not surprising when you consider that asparagus is a member of the Lily family. Yes, now we can get asparagus all year round. But for me, spring means asparagus.
I think asparagus is one of the great vegetables, a vegetable that would satisfy even if eaten alone for a meal. It’s also really good for you, since it is loaded with folic acid, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C and B6. But you have to eat it fast. After buying fresh asparagus, it’s best to use it within 3 days, or it will start to turn slimy. When you’re shopping, look for asparagus with firm, tight buds and fresh-looking (i.e., not slimy or woody) stalks. Store in the refrigerator wrapped loosely in plastic. One serving is about 1 cup or ½ pound, which equals around 5-8 stalks; I can always eat about twice that, though.
To prepare asparagus, I simply bend the bottom end of each stalk until it snaps. It will naturally break in the perfect space to remove the tough, woody bottom part of the stem. If you’re really in a hurry, you can just snap off one stalk, then line all the other stalks up on the cutting board and slice them through at the same place. A little rinse, and you’re ready to go. I never bother to peel asparagus, although if the stems seem particularly tough, peeling might be advisable.
There are many ways you can cook asparagus, but my two favorite techniques are roasting and steaming. Each results in a very different flavor. Roasting works best with thicker stems, and turns the asparagus sweet, smoky and hearty. Steaming is the ideal preparation for thinner steams and results in a delicate, vegetal flavor.
You can roast asparagus in the oven or in a pan on top of the range. Either way, toss it with some olive oil and coarse salt for the best flavor. Then cook it over a moderately high heat (or at 425 degrees, in the oven), turning once or twice, until it’s well browned. This may take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on thickness. This hearty preparation can stand up to strong flavors, such as mint, sauteed peppers, goat cheese and pine nuts (see photo).
To steam asparagus, suspend the spears in a steaming basket over boiling water until the stems turn bright green, 5-7 minutes. Alternately, stand the spears up in boiling water to boil the stems and steam the tips. Steamed asparagus needs a lighter treatment than roasted. I usually dress steamed asparagus with vinaigrette, melted butter and of course, hollandaise sauce.
Asparagus goes so well in many recipes. Tonight, I added it to a risotto (watch for a recipe coming soon). You might also try it in a stir-fry, soup, lasagna, pasta or with fried eggs for an Italian-style breakfast. However you eat it, eat it fast because — as Robert Frost tells us — nature’s first green doesn’t stick around very long.
*By the way, that link is one of the sites that comes up first when you google “green asparagus pee,” and I couldn’t resist linking to it. If you really want to know why asparagus makes your pee smelly, go here instead.