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Exploring Womanhood > Heart of the Home > Cooking > Fruits & Vegetables

Asparagus
by Jennifer A. Wickes

History / Geography
Native to Eurasia. Ancient Romans would only eat a few wild plants, and asparagus was one of those plants. In the Middle East, wild asparagus was gathered and pickled before eaten. By the Middle Ages, asparagus became a gourmet food in the Mediterranean countries. By the 1650's, asparagus was in the top 5 of the most popular vegetables to eat in France. In the 1850's, Germany began to can asparagus. By the 19th century, when refrigeration became into play, asparagus became a worldwide commodity.

Science
Part of the Lily Family, liliaceae.

Varieties
There are three types of asparagus: purple, green or white. The green asparagus is the most common. This type has a green stem and a purple tip. The purple type is called viola. The white type originated from Argenteuil, France, and is really a green asparagus grown underground!

Season
Asparagus are usually available between February and June, though hothouses in certain areas grow asparagus all year round.

How to Select
Choose your asparagus with a firm stalk, tight tips and a vivid color. The thicker the stalk of the asparagus, the older the plant is. Thinner stalks mean the plant was younger and therefore produces a more tender vegetable.

Storage
Store asparagus in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic for a maximum of 4 days. If desired, you can sit the asparagus, stem-side down, in 1 inch of water and cover the top with a plastic bag.

Nutritional Qualities
Asparagus contains Vitamin A and iron, as well as Vitamins B and C.

Wine Pairings
Depending on how you are preparing your asparagus and as to what you are serving with it, serve a Pinot Grigio or a Chenin Blanc.

Spices basil, chervil, Herbes de Provence, marjoram, paprika, parsley, savory

Equivalencies
6 - 10 spears per individual serving
1 pound fresh = 12 - 22 spears = 3 1/2 cups chopped = 2 cups cooked (cut)

Preparation
Bend each spear of asparagus, and the spear will automatically snap where it needs to. Discard the lower end. With a vegetable peeler, peel off the tough skin of the stalk. Trim off any excess spiky flowers with a knife.

Stir-Fry: 2 cups of 1/2 inch slices in 1 tablespoon of oil for 1 minute, then add 2 tablespoons of liquid, cover and cook 2 - 3 minutes.

Microwave: 1 pound spears + 2 tbsp. water for 4 - 7 minutes

Boil: spears, 7 - 10 minutes.

Steam: 8 - 12 minutes.

Roast: spears, 400 degrees for 20 minutes

Asparagus is done when the color is bright and vivid and the stalk is tender when pierced with a fork.

Additional Information (Web Sites)
California Asparagus Commission

Recipes

Baked Asparagus Gruyere
Recipe By: TJ Hill - Appetites Catered

1-pound asparagus tips
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese -- grated
3 tablespoons pine nuts -- toasted
1-tablespoon olive oil
1/4-teaspoon pepper -- to taste

Melt butter in an ovenproof skillet, over a high flame. Arrange asparagus in pan. Add 3 tablespoons water, cover, and steam for 2 minutes sprinkle stems (not tips) with cheese and nuts. Drizzle with oil. Season with pepper. Bake, uncovered, @ 350 degrees for 5 minutes, until cheese melts. Remove from oven. Serve hot.

Yields: 4 servings

Stir-Fried Asparagus
Recipe By: Public domain recipe

1-pound asparagus
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon chicken bouillon - instant
1-tablespoon cornstarch
1-tablespoon water - cold
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups fresh mushroom - sliced
1/8-teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Cut asparagus into 1" pieces and steam lightly. Mix 1/2 c water and the dry bouillon; reserve. Mix cornstarch and 1T water; reserve. Heat oil in wok or 12 inch skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus, mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir-fry about 1 minute. Stir in bouillon mixture and heat to boiling. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook and stir until thickened, about 10 seconds. Serve as a side dish or entrée.

Yields: 4 servings

Asparagus Soup

2 pounds asparagus
2 large potatoes
2 tablespoons dill
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1 cup rice milk
1 salt to taste

Cut potatoes into small pieces. In an approximately 3 qt. saucepan, boil potatoes until extremely tender. While this is happening, wash asparagus. Remove woody ends. Cut into 1" sections, setting aside tips. Add non-tip sections to potato pot and cook until asparagus has gone beyond bright green to olive green (but not brown). Add dill. Asparagus should be soft enough to mash along with potatoes, in the cooking water. Don't throw out any of the cooking water. Lightly brown flour in a small saucepan and allow to cool somewhat before adding rice milk. Add liquid gradually to make a smooth pseudo-roux and add the roux to the soup. Add the asparagus tips and continue cooking the soup just until they are tender and bright green. Salt to taste.

Yields: 2 servings

This article was originally published at Suite 101.

Jennifer Wickes is the editor at "Cooking With The Seasons". This site was voted to be one of the Top 100 Culinary Sites on the Internet! To visit her site, go to: http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/cooking_with_the_seasons or visit her at Suite 101's Food and Drink Community. You can join her Yahoo! Based group, Seasonal Cooking: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SeasonalCooking/ or contact her directly at: culinaryjen@yahoo.com.

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