Give dinnertime a touch of spring with asparagus

Classic vegetable adds a punch of nutrition and a seasonal taste to otherwise routine meals

A sure sign of spring is the appearance of fresh asparagus in local grocery stores and in gardens.

This tasty vegetable is low in calories and a good source of a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium.

It’s also a good source of dietary fiber.

When picking asparagus, select firm, straight, smooth, rich green stalks with tightly closed tips.

The tough, woody ends will snap off with a little pressure. Some people prefer to cut off less of the stalk, but instead peel the tough skin off the lower part of the stems. These trimmings can be blanched, frozen and used later in stocks or soups.

Remember to wash asparagus well, because dirt and sand often collect on the bottom of the stalks.

To store fresh asparagus, clean it, trim the stem by about 1/4 inch and pat it dry. Wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends or stand asparagus in about two inches of water. Refrigerate and use it within two or three days.

Asparagus is virtually always cooked. It’s usually boiled or steamed, but can also be microwaved, stir fried or roasted.

Try serving asparagus with lemon and butter, tossed with Parmesan cheese or a creamy pasta, or marinated and served warm or cold in a salad.

To roast asparagus, place 1 pound of thin spears on a baking sheet, then drizzle it with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Toss the asparagus to coat it with the oil, then arrange it in a single layer.

Spread 1 ounce of shaved Parmesan cheese over the top, season with freshly ground black pepper and bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 450-degree oven, until the cheese is melted and the asparagus is tender but crisp. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and serve.

Following are a few asparagus recipes from www.californiagrown.org and www.michiganasparagus.org.

 

    californiagrown.org

Creamy Asparagus Lemon Pasta

2 pounds asparagus
1 pound dried pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
8 ounces shredded Parmesan
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt
Pepper
Parsley for topping
 
    Place asparagus in a shallow baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Chop spears into four equal pieces.
    Cook pasta according to package directions.
    Place butter, cream cheese, cream, milk and Parmesan in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly to a low boil, stirring frequently. Once sauce is smooth, add lemon juice, zest and red pepper flakes. Simmer a few minutes until the sauce thickens and becomes silky. Add a dash of black pepper.
    Remove sauce from heat and add pasta and asparagus. Stir well to combine.
    Serve and top with fresh, minced parsley.

 

Asparagus Ribbon Pizza

Pizza dough
Cornmeal, optional
15 to 20 spears of asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
Sprigs of chives, chopped
2 radish bulbs, rough chopped
 
    Using a vegetable peeler, create ribbons with the asparagus spears.
    Stretch pizza dough onto a pizza stone dusted with cornmeal, if desired.
    Combine olive oil and garlic in a small bowl. Brush onto dough and top with mozzarella cheese. Add the asparagus ribbons and dust with Parmesan cheese.
    Bake in a 500-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until done. Immediately after removing from oven, top with crumbled bacon, chives and chopped radish and serve.

 

Lamb and Asparagus Kebabs With Pistachio Mint Pesto

1 2 to 3 pound boneless leg of lamb
12 stalks fresh asparagus
1 red onion
For marinade:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For pesto:
1 cup raw shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh mint, lightly packed
1 cup fresh basil, lightly packed

    Cut  lamb into kebab-sized chunks
    Combine all the marinade ingredients. Place lamb into marinade and refrigerate overnight.
    Place pesto ingredients into a food processor and blend on high until smooth. If it’s too chucky, add a little more olive oil while processing. Set aside.
    Place asparagus, red onion and lamb onto skewers, alternating pieces. Dust with salt and pepper. Grill until cooked and a nice char has formed on the meat.
    Serve with pesto.
    Makes six servings.
    Pesto will keep five to seven days in the refrigerator.

 

michiganasparagus.org

Asparagus Hummus

1 bunch asparagus
1 cup cooked or canned drained chickpeas
2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons tahini
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Good pinch of salt flakes
Freshly ground pepper
Few drops of Tabasco sauce

    Chop asparagus and place in a food mill or processor. Add chickpeas, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, tahini, salt, pepper and Tabasco and blend until smooth.
    If serving hummus right away, transfer to a serving bowl and serve with warmed pita pocket bread.
    Hummus will store in an airtight container in refrigerator for two to three days.

 

    
Pesto Chicken Pasta

8 ounces uncooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
2 cups cut-up fresh or frozen asparagus
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1 2.25-ounce can sliced ripe olives, well drained
3/4 cup pesto sauce
3 tablespoons freshly shredded or grated romano cheese
Cooked chicken, chopped

    Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse and drain.
    Steam or microwave asparagus until crisp-tender. Drain and combine with cooked pasta in a large bowl. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, onion and olives. Gently toss with pesto sauce.
    Serve warm, garnished with cheese.
    Makes six servings.

 

Golden Asparagus Soup

4 cups chicken stock or canned broth
2 thin slices fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/3 pounds fresh asparagus
2 ounces cellophane noodles, cooked and drained
2 green onions, thinly sliced

    Cut asparagus into 1-1/4 inch pieces.
    Bring chicken stock and ginger to boil. Stir in sherry and sesame oil. Reduce to a simmer and add asparagus and noodles. Cook two to four minutes, until asparagus is tender-crisp.
    Stir in green onions and serve immediately.
    Makes 4 servings

 

Asparagus Frittata

2 tablespoons Italian dressing
2/3 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped red pepper
1 14.5-ounce can asparagus cuts and tips, drained
8 eggs
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Heat dressing in large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and red pepper. Cook, stirring. for five minutes.
    Add drained asparagus.
    Beat eggs, milk and 1/2 cup provolone cheese in medium bowl. Pour over vegetable mixture in skillet.
    Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, until eggs are almost set. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining provolone and Parmesan cheese. Bake another five minutes, until cheese is melted.
    Cut into wedges and serve.
    Makes 4 servings.
    

 

Orange and Asparagus Salad

2 cups cut-up fresh or frozen asparagus
1 6-ounce bag spring or European lettuce mix
1 11-ounce can Mandarin orange sections, well drained
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup honey roasted cashews
1/2 cup raspberry vinaigrette dressing

    Steam or microwave asparagus until tender-crisp. Drain and let cool.
    Combine cooked asparagus, lettuce, oranges, onion, and cashews. Pour dressing over all. Toss evenly to coat and serve immediately.
    Makes 6 servings.

 

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