If you are looking for the best method for cooking asparagus, you are lucky. Asparagus is incredibly versatile and can be cooked in many ways, and here are some of the most popular ways to prepare this delicious vegetable. Depending on the size and grill heat, you can grill asparagus for 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, you can brush olive oil on the asparagus spears or use a balsamic vinaigrette to dress them up.
Asparagus is only available for two months a year, with the earliest shoots, known as sprue, being thinner and more tender. Thicker stalks can become woody and have a woody tip later on. Break the stalks where the woody part meets the delicate part to cook asparagus. Remove the woody ends of the asparagus and save them from making stock. Before cooking the stalks, however, they do not need to be peeled.
Asparagus Nutrition Facts
What is Asparagus?
Garden asparagus (Asparagus Officinalis) is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the lily family. The slender spears with their pointed, scaled tips are the plant’s young shoots, which are eaten. These grow into a giant, feathery fernlike plant that dies back in the fall if left to grow.
Asparagus plants can be found all over the world. China, Peru, Germany, and the United States are the top producers. They do best in temperate climates with frozen ground. The spears emerge from the ground as the ground thaws and temperatures rise in the spring. When they reach 6 to 8 inches tall, and the thickest spears are a half-inch thick, they are harvested. They begin thin, thicken as the season progresses, and then taper off; harvesting ends when the spears are only the thickness of a pencil.
Patience and space are required when growing asparagus. Each plant requires several square feet, and edible spears can take 3 to 4 years to grow after the seeds are planted. Because of the long wait and short season, asparagus has earned a reputation as a high-end vegetable, which explains why it is sometimes more expensive on the market. It is, however, one of the simplest to prepare and cook.
There are hundreds of varieties of asparagus, but only about 20 of them are edible; the rest are purely decorative, and some are toxic if consumed. In the United States, most asparagus is green, with some tender and sweet purple varieties popping up now and then. White asparagus is grown in Europe under banked soil or sand (or black tarps) to prevent it from producing chlorophyll and turning green. The mild and gentle flavor of these fatter spears is preferred.
The Best Method for Cooking Asparagus
There are many different methods for cooking asparagus. Here are some of them:
- One large bundle of asparagus
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400º. Toss asparagus with olive oil on a large baking sheet and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Roast until tender and slightly charred, 25 minutes.
- Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus and cook until tender, 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add chopped asparagus and cook until tender, 3 minutes.
- Immediately add to a large bowl of ice water and let cool.
- Preheat the grill (or grill pan) to medium-high temperature. Toss asparagus lightly in oil in a large mixing bowl, then season with salt and pepper. 3 to 4 minutes, occasionally turning, until tender and charred on all sides.
Asparagus flavor varies depending on the season and variety. It has an earthy flavor, similar to broccoli, and is almost as flavorful as a green bean. White and purple asparagus is milder, and any asparagus will absorb the flavor of the food with which it is cooked.
What is the Healthiest Way to Eat Asparagus?
Including asparagus in your diet, regardless of how you prepare it, is a healthy choice. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you cook it or eat it raw. Both options boost your diet with fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients. Mix up your meal routine and try both cooked and raw preparation styles for maximum health benefits. Asparagus, shredded and raw, can be added to pasta dishes and salads. Alternatively, serve the spears lightly steamed or sautéed as a stand-alone side dish or in a frittata.
Where to Buy Asparagus?
Depending on the region, asparagus is harvested from March to June. It is available all year thanks to international cultivation, though some people find imports bland. The spears may be as thin as pencils early in the season, but fatter, meatier spears become available as the season progresses. Tenderness is not determined by spear thickness but rather by how the plant is grown and how soon it is eaten after harvest. Thin asparagus that has been stored improperly or for a long time can be tough and flavorless; fresh, fat spears can be surprisingly sweet and tender.
As soon as the asparagus is harvested, purchase it. Extra-tender specimens can be found at farmers’ markets and stores that buy from local growers. Asparagus grows wild in some areas, particularly along roadsides, and is a popular springtime find for foragers. It’s also simple to grow in home gardens, though the first harvest will take three years. Smooth skin, compact heads, and freshly cut ends are all things to look for.
To increase your chances of biting into tender spears, it should be as bright green as possible (purple or white for those varieties). Asparagus is sold by the pound in bundles. Asparagus usually comes in 12 to 15 spears per pound. This recipe serves 2–4 people and yields about 3 cups of cut asparagus. The cost will also vary depending on the season. It isn’t always the most affordable vegetable on the market.
What are the Side Effects of Eating Asparagus?
Asparagus is a nutritious and delicious vegetable that can be eaten every day. Low in calories and packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it’s great to include a fiber-rich diet to keep your digestive system healthy.
However, eating asparagus can also have some side effects:
- Because of its high fiber content, asparagus can cause flatulence, stomach cramps, and gastric upset in some people.
- Asparagus contains asparagusic acid that may break down to sulfurous compounds and lend a funny smell to your urine.
- If you take lithium, asparagus may interact with the drug in your body and increase its retention, causing adverse effects.
- If you are allergic to asparagus, you may experience a skin rash, watery eyes, and breathing difficulties.
Some people suggest storing asparagus in a vase of water, just like flowers. Others will wrap the ends in damp paper towels, place the bundle in a plastic bag, and refrigerate it upright. It’s also fine to keep them in a loosely wrapped plastic bag in the crisper. The most important factor to remember is that the better the flavor, the sooner you eat it. Asparagus can be blanched and frozen after blanching and eat it within a year for the best results. Another option is to can asparagus spears, but the spears will be mushy. Pickled asparagus spears are a unique snack option.
Asparagus is delicious, both cooked and raw. A simple broiling method will suffice if you don’t have time to roast or boil asparagus. Drizzle olive oil or brown butter over the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet, and 5–8 minutes under the broiler. You can eat it plain or add a pinch of salt or bagna cauda to dress it up. If you keep asparagus in a water-filled jar in the refrigerator, it will last several days. Remove the rubber bands and store them in a plastic bag or heavy-bottomed jar in the fridge to keep them fresh. Asparagus has a three to five-day shelf life, but you should use it within that time frame for the best flavor. After blanching asparagus, it can also be frozen.