A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a woman whose house burned down over a year ago. She lost everything, but when she went back last spring to survey the damage, she saw that her asparagus was coming up as if nothing had happened. Of course, she harvested it. She looks forward to more asparagus this year. Asparagus plants can live for years. I’ve seen it growing along open space trails, near where farmers planted it over 100 years ago.
Asparagus is one of the few remaining vegetables that’s limited to seasonal availability. It’s a perennial plant, grown from rhizomes that produce every year. The green spears emerge from the ground in early spring. After they’re harvested, the plants produce feathery/fern-like foliage during the summer. This leafy growth stores energy to produce next spring’s tasty spears.
Growing asparagus isn’t for everyone. You need yard space. But eating asparagus is for everyone who likes the unique flavor. It’s great raw or cooked. You can serve it as is, or add it to salads, and hot or cold pasta or grain dishes.
For several years, the only asparagus I’ve found at grocery stores are the very thin spears. I’d always preferred the thicker spears; I thought they had more flavor, but I tried some of the thin ones recently and they had good flavor. The benefit would be that the thin spears cook faster. The thick spears were always a bit problematic: the tips of the spears would be cooked long before the thicker/tougher stem ends.
Like other green vegetables, asparagus has a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. It’s a good source of fiber, folate, lutein/zeaxanthin, potassium, and vitamin K. One-half cup cooked as 20 calories, 2 grams fiber, 200 mg potassiu, 134 mcg folate and 45 mcg vitamin K. Not bad for 20 calories.
I roasted my first bunch of thin spears. This was a really easy cooking method. Wash, snap off the stem ends, arrange on a sheet pan, toss with olive oil to coat and cook in a 400º oven for 10 or so minutes until done. Don’t over cook! The spears should have a bit of al dente texture, not mushy.
You can also steam or simmer the spears. To ensure even cooking, I wash and stem the spears and then make a 1″ slice lengthwise into the stem end. This allows steam or simmering water to transfer heat right into the thicker end of the asparagus spear. I know it sounds like a picky chore, but it’s my method and I’m sticking with it.
I used a batch of pre-steamed spears in risotto recently. Pre-cooking the asparagus makes the whole process easier.
Pre-cook the asparagus spears.
- 1 lb fresh asparagus spears
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 3-4 TB olive oil
- 3 or more cups broth (chicken, vegetable)
- Optional: 1/2 cup white wine (replaces some of the broth)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, more to taste or for garnish
- salt to taste
- Step 1 Wash the asparagus spears and snap off the stem ends. Steam or simmer until al dente (not mushy!). They should maintain bright green color. Rinse with cold water, set aside.
- Step 2 In a sauce pan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over moderate heat, stirring to avoid burning. About 4-5 minutes.
- Step 3 Add the raw rice and continue stirring to heat the rice grains.
- Step 4 Add the wine, if using. Stir the rice mixture until the liquid is absorbed.
- Step 5 Continue adding broth, about 2/3 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until liquid is absorbed.
- Step 6 Taste the rice to check for doneness. Add more liquid if necessary. The mixture should be somewhat creamy, the rice just slightly chewy.
- Step 7 When the rice is cooked to your preferences, add the grated cheese and mix thoroughly to melt the cheese. Taste for salt, add if necessary. You may not need any, as Parmesan is salty.
- Step 8 Cut the asparagus spears into thirds and mix gently into the rice (see photo).
- Step 9 Serve with extra cheese.