Ode to the asparagus
March 20, 2009

These asparagus tips were droopy. They've sat too long in the fridge unprotected. But they were eaten anyway, and no complaints were heard. (Staff photo)

When purchasing fresh asparagus, Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, says to look for firm, crisp stalks with compact brightly colored closed tips.

"The best way to store fresh asparagus is in the refrigerator upright in a drinking glass or jar filled with about an inch of water. Place a plastic bag loosely around the top. It should last three to four days stored in this way," said Roberts.

I would stop by the table, where the kitchen-maid had shelled them, to inspect the platoons of peas, drawn up in ranks and numbered, like little green marbles, ready for a game; but what fascinated me would be the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world.--Marcel Proust from Swann's Way

Most people prefer steaming as the cooking method for asparagus but it can also be boiled or cooked in the microwave.

Some people like to wrap a string around the asparagus and tie it in a bundle before cooking to make it easier to remove from the pan.

"The asparagus is cooked when the stalks are tender but still firm. Avoid overcooking asparagus as it will cause it to lose flavor, color and nutrients," said Roberts.

To cook asparagus in the microwave, place it in a microwave safe dish with the tips pointed toward the center. Add one-quarter to one-half cup water and cover it with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap. It takes five to seven minutes to cook.

Asparagus may be served hot or cold.

"If you are going to serve it cold, dip it in to cold water to stop the cooking process as soon as the asparagus is tender. People who like asparagus cold often top it with a dressing or mustard sauce," said Roberts.

If a person has an over abundance and wants to freeze asparagus, Roberts says to wash the spears, sort them according to size and trim the stalks. Blanch small spears for two minutes, medium spears for three minutes and large spears for four minutes. Remove from boiling water and dip immediately into ice water for two minutes. Promptly drain, place into containers, seal and freeze.

"It should be good for up to nine months in the freezer," said Roberts.

Asparagus is low in calories. A one-half cup serving contains only 22 calories. It is also a good source of folic acid, vitamin C and B6.

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