STORY AND PHOTO BY MEGAN MCCARTHY
Asparagus has officially come to be recognized as one of the signs of spring. We now anticipate this glorious spring crop the way we do summer heirloom tomatoes or autumn apples. Even though asparagus has been cultivated around the world for thousands of years, it just recently seems to have made enough of an impact on nutrition gurus and foodies alike as an easy way to make an elegant and delicious side dish that is actually good for you. This perennial vegetable is the gift that keeps on giving.
Asparagus has many nutritional benefits such as vitamins A, C and E as well as calcium, magnesium and zinc. As we get older, we start looking at the nutrition of food that includes good amounts of B vitamins, potassium, folic acid and dietary fiber as well. Add to that the fact that it is low in calories and low in sodium, asparagus has it all.
Designer vitamins cannot match the simple elegance and flavor of a spear or two of raw, steamed, sautéed or roasted asparagus. And yes, bigger is better and we are talking diameter; it is a sign of good quality.
There are a few tips to look for when the bounty comes in. Select firm, smooth, vibrant green stalks to ensure freshness. You want the tips to be tight and closed. Wash asparagus only when ready to cook. You can trim the base ends, stand the stalks upright in a jar with bit of water and put them in the fridge covered for a few days.
Although you can find asparagus all year round in the United States, these tender shoots taste the best now. So pick some up and enjoy the freshness of spring.
Megan McCarthy is a healthy lifestyle consultant, spokesperson and chef. She also teaches cooking classes in Atlanta at Whole Foods Market, The Cook’s Warehouse and at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens as the Edible Garden Chef. Check her blog for recipes and upcoming events at healthyeating101.com