Stalks star as spring vegetable
June 4, 2012 4:44PM
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:25AM
This vegetable is sometimes referred to as the aristocrat of vegetables. Many Greeks and Romans not only appreciate asparagus for its taste but also believe it possesses medicinal properties from alleviating toothaches to preventing bee stings. Such things are mythical, but asparagus does contain a good supply of vitamins and minerals. Asparagus appears in markets as early as February, but the peak of this crop’s season is in April and May into June.
Asparagus can be found in green and white varieties. Green asparagus is the most common in the United States, while the white is more popular in Europe. White asparagus is grown under the soil. This does not allow the sun’s rays to penetrate the plant, and therefore it does not produce the chlorophyll necessary to produce the green color. When eaten raw, white asparagus has a sweet, nutty taste.
Choose firm yet tender stalks. For the green variety, choose stalks with deep green or purplish tips that are closed and compact. Avoid excessively sandy spears. Stalks with a narrow diameter are tenderer than thick ones.
Store stalks, with bottoms wrapped in a damp paper towel, in the crisper section of the refrigerator; if you don’t have a crisper, put them in plastic bags and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. It is best to eat asparagus the day it is purchased, because the flavor lessens with each passing day.
Preparation and cooking
Wash asparagus in cool running water. Snap off tough ends at their natural breaking point. Before cooking white asparagus, it first must be peeled so that no skin remains. This can be done using a potato peeler. White asparagus needs to be cooked until completely tender, while the green variety can be stir-fried, lightly steamed or cooked in the microwave.
Makes 6 servings
5 medium tomatoes
1/4 pound small asparagus
1 medium zucchini
1/4 pound small white mushrooms
1 large red and/or green sweet pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound spaghetti
Peel, seed and dice tomatoes. Wash asparagus and cut tips off stalks. Wash and dry zucchini and mushrooms, cut into thin slices. Wash pepper and cut into short thin strips. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add pepper strips and sauté over medium heat 5 to 6 minutes. Add onion, zucchini, asparagus tips, and mushrooms. Sauté 4 to 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and salt and pepper. Cook uncovered over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in parsley and garlic. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Cook spaghetti; drain and place in a warm deep dish or bowl. Pour sauce over spaghetti. Serve immediately.