Amazing Asparagus

Asparagus is a delicious spring vegetable loaded with an amazing amount of health-promoting nutrients.  A mere cup of asparagus provides 65% of the recommended daily allowance for folacin, the B vitamin essential for cell production in bone marrow and for making hemoglobin.  It contains 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and only 40 calories (less than 4 calories per spear).  Asparagus is also a good source of potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins C and K, and beta-carotene; in addition, it provides iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.

Asparagus is one of the richest sources of rutin, which strengthens capillary walls and is a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticarcinogen.  It  is loaded with glutathione (GSH), which acts as a primary defense against chemicals that can cause cell transformation and/or cell death.

Researchers have recently discovered that asparagus contains the prebiotic inulin, known for improving digestive health.

When shopping for this amazingly healthy vegetable, don’t assume that thinner spears are superior to thicker spears.  Many value the slender asparagus, thinking they are younger and therefore more tender.  However, the variety of asparagus determines the thickness, not the maturity.

Like fresh flowers, asparagus should be kept cold and upright in two inches of cold water after trimming off the stem ends about 1/4 inch.  Consume these tasty vegetables within 2 days, since the breakdown of starches and sugar occurs more quickly than in most other vegetables.

The medium-to-thick asparagus are actually better for broiling, roasting, and grilling.  The bigger the spears, the longer they take to cook, but also the more flavor they’ll have.  The thin spears are better steamed and sautéed.

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus (they snap off in pretty much the right place every time) and if the stalks are thick, peel them.  Lay each spear on a flat surface and give it a few quick strokes with a vegetable peeler from the stem to the bottom of the flower bud.  The difference between peeled and unpeeled thick spears is substantial.

To roast, place the asparagus on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and then toss to coat completely.  Spread the asparagus in a single layer and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Roast the spears at 425 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, until tender but still crisp and bright green.  Roasted asparagus makes a great side for any meal.

Asparagus is also delicious in soup.  Try Asparagus Tortellini Pesto Soup and Roasted Asparagus and White Bean Potato Soup for starters. Chopped asparagus makes a flavorful and colorful addition to omelets, frittatas and quiches.  Toss freshly cooked pasta with roasted asparagus, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and lemon juice to make Roasted Asparagus Pasta.  Risotto, rice pilaf and fried rice pair nicely with asparagus as well.  Share your favorite asparagus recipes in the comment section below.

Roasted or grilled asparagus is so good and so healthy that in April when it’s in season and less expensive, it can and should be eaten with almost everything.  Take April’s (2011) Healthy Challenge and eat more asparagus!