Nothing says spring is here like a beautiful bunch of crisp asparagus. While asparagus is available year-round, it’s much better when purchased locally.
Asparagus is easy to select and prepare, and comes in a variety of vibrant colors including green, violet, purple and white. It also grows wild and is commercially available fresh, frozen and canned. The stalks range in size from colossal to small. Various types and colors of asparagus can be used without a noticeable difference in taste, so mix and match colors and sizes for visual interest. It tastes delicious hot or cold.
Asparagus should be crisp and firm, not limp or wrinkled, with tightly closed tips. Dull colors and ridges in the stems are an indication of a lack of freshness. The stalks should not be limp or dry at the cut, but should be of uniform thickness.
If you’re planning to use the asparagus on the same day, rinse it under cool water and pat the stalks dry with a paper towel. Smaller stalks can be broken or cut at the point where the stem naturally snaps. Peeling the end of thicker stalks with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler removes any woody stems and can be done up to two hours before cooking. Place the prepared asparagus in a plastic bag in the refrigerator to stay crisp. Never wash or soak fresh asparagus before storing. If the asparagus is bound with a rubber band, remove it, as it will pinch and bruise the stalks.
Asparagus can be stored up to two days if the stalks are trimmed and placed upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover the asparagus with a plastic bag and store the spears in the refrigerator. It also freezes well if blanched first in hot water.
Asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. One-half cup of cooked asparagus contains significant amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene. It’s also a heart-healthy food, and a natural diuretic.
This versatile vegetable works well as a room-temperature appetizer, blended into a soup, as a flavorful side dish, the main ingredient in a colorful salad or as part of a main course like my recipe for Lemon Chicken with Asparagus.
LEMON CHICKEN WITH ASPARAGUS
4 chicken breasts, about 3 pounds, washed and with fat trimmed and removed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 pound asparagus, stalks trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 cups cooked rice
In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with the salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Place the chicken, skin-side down, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the pieces skin-side up, and cook until golden brown and done, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and red bell pepper. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the zest and the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Serve immediately over hot rice.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, ‘like’ Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis. © 2014 King Features Synd. Inc. and Angela Shelf Medearis