Kitchen Helpful Hits
Asparagus cooking tips
Spring brings a fresh crop of delectable spears of asparagus. It used to be an expensive delicacy, reserved for royalty and rulers. Now the cost is down and asparagus is available to all with rich palates. The recipe spotlight includes many different asparagus recipes for you to try, including desserts!
Wash the vegetable by gently sloshing it up and down in a sink of cool water, gently rubbing the sand from the stalks with your fingers. Asparagus needs to be cooked quickly to a tender-crisp texture. To gauge doneness, poke a stalk with a knife and you should feel a little resistance.
One cooking method is to stand the asparagus in three inches of boiling water, cover and cook for 8 minutes or until the tips are tender. This method cooks the thicker bottom stalk while steaming the more tender tips. Steaming should be reserved for only the youngest, most tender asparagus.
To blanch, fill a large pot half full of water, add one tablespoon salt, and bring to a boil. Add asparagus and partially cover until a second boil quickly begins, then uncover and cook for 5-8 minutes. Remove to a towel to dry.
To freeze, blanch by plunging into boiling water for 3-4 minutes and remove immediately to chilled water. Drain. Pack in containers, label and freeze for up to nine months.
It's a good idea to tie the asparagus in bundles of 10-12 stalks for cooking, so they can be quickly removed from the water all at once.
Asparagus should be served warm or at room temperature as refrigeration dulls the flavor.
It's imperative not to overcook asparagus.
Remember it will continue to cook a bit, even after removed from boiling water. Asparagus readily adapts to other quick cooking methods, such as stir-fry and saute.
A half pound of asparagus per person will satisfy most as a first course or accompaniment. There are 15 to 20 medium-size stalks in a pound. One pound of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths, will measure about three cups.
Available year-round, spring is the best season for fresh asparagus. Crops are harvested from late February to June, with April being the prime month. The stalks shoot up from the crown of the plant and grow into fern-like leaves when allowed to develop. However, the edible stalks are harvested strictly by hand before the actual fern leaves develop. It takes three years from the sowing of the seed to the harvest of the first stalks. The plants are either male or female, with the male producing more stalks of a smaller size, and the female producing less stalks, but larger in size. Asparagus is one of the few vegetables that is grown as a perennial, since the plants have about a 10-year life.
White asparagus comes from the process of etiolation, which is the deprivation of light. Dirt is kept mounded around the emerging stalk, depriving it of light. The plant cannot produce chlorophyll without light, thus there is no green color to the stalks. Asparagus comes in the following grades: colossal, jumbo, large, standard, and small. Varieties are interchangeable in recipes, with the only change being in the color of the resultant dish.
Green Asparagus: Ranging from pencil-thin to very thick. Most American asparagus is of this variety.
White Asparagus: Preferred in Europe, these sunlight-deprived stalks are a little milder and more delicate. It is difficult to find fresh in the United States.
Violet or Purple Asparagus: This variety is most commonly found in England and Italy and has a very thick and substantial stalk.
Is peeling Asparagus necessary?
Asparagus selection and storage
Whether you prefer the thick or thin spears, be certain they are fresh. The sugar in the plant quickly converts to starch after harvesting, causing a loss in flavor and development of a woody texture. Select firm, straight, smooth, rich green stalks with tightly-closed tips. Ridges in the stems and a dull green color are an indication of old age. The stalks should not be limp or dry at the cut. Choose stalks of uniform thickness for more control in the cooking process.
Do not wash asparagus before storing and never soak it. Trim the ends of fresh asparagus and stand them upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover with a plastic bag and store asparagus spears in the refrigerator for up to two days.
To peel or not to peel?
Many chefs peel the lower stalks of asparagus to avoid any woody strings, but others insist this is not necessary with properly selected, thin, fresh asparagus. Peeling is recommended for thicker asparagus stalks. If you feel the need to peel, chop off the bottom inch or two of theasparagus stalk, and peel downward from the tip.
Sweet Purple Asparagus:
This new type of asparagus has many similar characteristics to green asparagus but offers something new for the asparagus connoisseur. The spears produced have several qualities, which make it quite different than common green asparagus.
1) The deep-burgundy coloration produced in these asparagus spears is the most striking difference between the purple and green varieties.
2) The asparagus spears are generally larger and much more tender than its green counterpart. The vascular bundles have less lignin per spear, which make the spears less stringy. This allows the cook to use the entire asparagus spear with little waste.
3) Sweet Purple asparagus has a 20% higher sugar content. Because of this extra sweetness, this vegetable is often eaten raw. Some upscale restaurants garnish salads with purple asparagus. When cooked, the sweetness gives this asparagus a mild, nutty flavor.
Growing tips that are unique to Sweet Purple Asparagus
This variety is more susceptible to rust than some of the green varieties; therefore it is important to keep relative humidity within the crop canopy to a minimum. Drip or buried drip irrigation is recommended. Planting the rows in the direction of the prevailing winds also reduces relative humidity.
Due to the lack of fiber in the asparagus spears, the fern tends to lie down in the furrows. This is another reason to orient rows towards the prevailing winds.
*Applying vinegar or lemon juice to asparagus spears prior to cooking will help to retain the purple coloration. Otherwise, cooking this variety will result in varying degrees of color loss.
Asparagus grows wild in some areas, particularly in Europe. You'll most likely have to hunt down your own, as it is rarely available fresh in markets, except in Italy and the South of France.
Asparagus health watch
Ancient Chinese herbalists have used asparagus root to treat many maladies from arthritis to infertility. The root contains compounds called steroidal glycosides, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. One-half cup of cooked asparagus contains significant amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, cervical cancer, colon and rectal cancer and heart disease. Vitamin C protects against cancer and heart disease and also helps boost the immune system. Potassium helps regulate the electrolyte balance within cells, and helps maintain normal heart function and blood pressure. Asparagus is a natural diuretic, and a heart-healthy food, containing no fat, cholesterol or sodium. In 1991, an Italian researcher reported a compound found in asparagus had shown some antiviral activity in test tube studies.
This well-known table delicacy may be found wild on the sea-coast in the South-west of England, especially near the Lizard, in the Isle of Anglesea, otherwise it is a rare native. In the southern parts of Russia and Poland the waste steppes are covered with this plant, which is there eaten by horses and cattle as grass. It is also common in Greece, and was formerly much esteemed as a vegetable by the Greeks and Romans. It appears to have been cultivated in the time of Cato the Elder, 200 years B.C., and Pliny mentions a species that grew near Ravenna, of which three heads would weigh a pound.
Asparagus is noticed by Gerard in 1597, and in 1670 forced Asparagus was supplied to the London market.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---
The virtues of Asparagus are well known as a diuretic and laxative; and for those of sedentary habits who suffer from symptoms of gravel, it has been found very beneficial, as well as in cases of dropsy. The fresh expressed juice is taken medicinally in tablespoonful doses.
Prussian Asparagus, which is brought to some English markets, is not a species of Asparagus at all, but consists of the spikes of Ornithogalum pyrenaicum, which grows abundantly in hedges and pastures (especially in the locality of Bath). See STAR OF BETHLEHEM.
Culpepper tells us 'The decoction of the roots (Asparagus) boiled in wine, and taken is good to clear the sight, and being held in the mouth easeth the toothache.' He also tells us it helps those sinews that 'are shrunk by cramps and convulsions, and helpeth the sciatica.
A member of the lily family, asparagus, (Asparagus officinalis), comes from the Greek word asparagos, which first appears in English print around 1000 A.D. It cannot be definitively tracked to any one specific area of origin, although it is known to be native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas. As early as 200 BC, Cato gave excellent growing instructions for asparagus. The ancient Egyptians cultivated it, and Romans, from Pliny to Julius Caesar to Augustus, prized the wild variety.
As quick as cooking asparagus was an old Roman saying meaning something accomplished rapidly. Herbalist John Girard mentioned wild asparagus in the 16th century, and it is mentioned as far back as the 17th century in French cookbooks. The asparagus growing beds in Northern Italy were famous during the Renaissance period. These graceful spears have always been a sign of elegance, and in times past, were a delicacy only the wealthy could afford. Roman emperors were so fond of asparagus, that they kept a special asparagus fleet for the purpose of fetching it.
Is white asparagus a different variety?
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