Mar 02, 2020

LET’S DISH and Talk About Asparagus!

When we look for signs of spring, we look for the first daffodil or the returning sound of birds chirping in the morning. But there is no better messenger for spring than the delightful sight of fresh, elegant asparagus at the produce market. Buy local! Fortunately, New Jersey is one of the top production states for asparagus.

No one is certain where asparagus originated from, but a likely bet is the Mediterranean Sea, cultivated for more than 2,000 years in salty soil by the Greeks, who believed it had medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities. Around 200 BC, the innovative Romans also used the asparagus for food and medicine, but were the first to dry the asparagus for winter consumption. They developed cultivation methods for asparagus. Roman emperors maintained special asparagus fleets to gather the choicest spears to the empire. Emperor Augustus even coined the phrase for haste as “velocius quam asparagi coquantor,” which translates to “faster than you can cook asparagus.”

Related to the onion, garlic and lily (Liliaceae) family, asparagus is a high-ranking nutritional powerhouse, rich in fiber and folate (it is the vegetable with the most folic acid), and a fantastic source of vitamin A, C and copper. Only 20 calories per ½ cup, it is fat-free, cholesterol-free and a low-carbohydrate food. The greener the stalk, the more nutritious the vegetable. However, the Europeans are fonder of the white-stalked asparagus, grown by denying the plants light and increasing the amount of ultraviolet light the plants are exposed to while they are being grown, creating a sweeter stalk. The tiny scales of an asparagus actually function as leaves.

When purchasing asparagus, look for stalks that are firm, with compact, brightly colored tips. Thin or thick stalks are tender, but sometimes older stalks tend to be woody and fibrous. Rinse the stalk, then hold the stalk between two hands and bend it. The spot that snaps is the section of woody stalk you can discard. The bunch you choose should be of equal thickness so that they cook evenly. Like any vegetable, asparagus can be cooked in water, steamed, sautéed, grilled or microwaved. You will want to cook it until it is tender but still firm. Mushy asparagus is undesirable. There are many delicious recipes with asparagus as the main vegetable that give the asparagus more flavor than simple steaming. Many people love asparagus with butter or hollandaise sauce.

Asparagus is a culinary delight. Try the following recipes for an easy and delicious way to enjoy this powerhouse veggie!

 

RECIPE OF THE MONTH

ASPARAGUS QUICHE

  • Pastry for one crust 9-inch pie (can use refrigerated rolled crust or frozen pie crust)
  • ¾ lb. fresh asparagus or one 8-oz. package frozen cut asparagus
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 ½ cups light cream or milk
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • Dash nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups shredded Swiss cheese

Line 9-inch pie plate with pastry (do not prick pastry). Line shell with foil and fill it with dry beans or pie weights. Bake in 450 degrees oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven; remove foil and beans. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Cut asparagus into 1 ½ -inch pieces. Cook asparagus pieces uncovered until tender. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, cream or milk, salt and nutmeg. Stir in cooked asparagus. Sprinkle cheese in prebaked pastry shell. Pour egg mixture over. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

 

BONUS RECIPE

ASPARAGUS DROP COOKIES

  • 1 cup grated asparagus
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. cloves
  • ½ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)

Beat together thoroughly the asparagus, soda, sugar and shortening. Add egg. Beat well. Sift flour and spices. Add dry ingredients, mix well. Add nuts and raisins.

Drop by teaspoonful on greased baking sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes 3 dozen cookies.