Fresh Asparagus Recipes

From potato salad to frittatas, these fresh asparagus recipes can help you make some of the spring's tastiest fare.

| April/May 1994

Asparagus is one of those strange vegetables—you either love it or you hate it. Perhaps you have that all too common childhood memory of stringy, limp stalks that were so overcooked that they forced you to shun the green stuff ever since. When I was little, fresh asparagus recipes were foreign to my large family; it was too expensive. When we did have asparagus, it was often the gastronomically challenging variety mentioned above. A special treat then, was visiting my grandparents' house during asparagus season, knowing that I was sure to dine on what I thought was a rare, exotic, and slightly scary vegetable.

My grandmother had an asparagus patch behind her garage not too far from her prize winning flower garden. She was a proper grandmother who wore a dress every day of her life, even if she never left the house. That's why it was intriguing to me to see her don old pleated pants to work in the garden. She must have looked like Jean Harlow wearing those pants during the 1930s. That's one of my best memories of my grandmother: gray-haired and garden-gloved, kneeling next to me in the asparagus patch while we scouted the perfect stalls. We'd then lunch on steamed asparagus with plenty of butter (butter wasn't evil back then), cucumber sandwiches, and homemade ginger cookies.

Buying Asparagus: The best asparagus is available sometime in February up until the end of June, with April and May peak months in the Midwest. It's best to buy asparagus only when it's in season and extremely fresh. It must be refrigerated or stored standing in an inch or so of water in the supermarket immediately after harvesting to maintain its flavor and nutrients. The vitamins C, E, and A found in asparagus will diminish rapidly at room temperature. Also, it will lose some of its residual sugars, which impart flavor, and the stalks will lose moisture, making them tough and stringy.

Look for firm stalks without ridges (a sign that the asparagus is ancient). The tips should be bright green, tightly closed, not wilted or gone to seed. The diameter of the stalks is not directly related to quality or tenderness, but stalks that measure about 1/2" in diameter are usually preferable.

Varieties: American asparagus is green while European asparagus is purple-streaked or white-streaked. The prized white variety is planted underground to prevent the development of chlorophyll, which turns it green. This process yields more fibrous and stronger tasting spears but is more expensive and less nutritious.

Storage: If store bought, cut a little off the ends and refrigerate standing in an inch of water in a deep container. Cover loosely with a plastic bag that doesn't touch the tips. Take care not to store in the back of the refrigerator where the tips will often freeze. Depending largely on its freshness when purchased, the asparagus should keep 3-5 days.

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