Food Profile: Asparagus
Locally grown asparagus begins to appear in grocery stores and at farmer's markets across Canada in mid-May and throughout June. A rare late-spring treat for its many devoted fans, fresh asparagus has a delicate flavour that is both sweet and herbaceous. Asparagus also packs a hefty nutritious punch, its tender spears are among the most healthy of all vegetables; whether you're enjoying the green, white, or purple variety. An excellent source of vitamins A, C, E, and K, asparagus is also rich in folate, fibre, and the mineral chromium. Asparagus is a mild diuretic and is used to help treat and prevent urinary tract infections as well as kidney stones.
Selecting the best asparagus
When selecting asparagus keep in mind that it should look freshly picked and crisp. Avoid any bunches that have gnarled woody stems or slimy wet tips as these are both indications that the asparagus has been sitting around for longer than is desirable. Prepping asparagus is literally a snap, simply bend the stalk until the tough part breaks off (or you can use a knife to cut the ends off for a more uniform appearance).
Steaming is a simple yet ideal cooking method for showcasing the best asparagus of the season. Steamer baskets are inexpensive additions to any kitchen and make fast work of preparing asparagus or any other spring vegetable. For perfectly al dente asparagus, taste frequently as it steams and remove from the heat just before you think it’s done; the residual heat will finish the cooking process.
Grilling asparagus adds a smoky sweetness to the spears making them a tasty addition to any backyard barbecue. Simply brush olive oil on the prepped asparagus and cook on the barbecue in a grill basket over high heat for two to three minutes, making sure to give the basket a shake every 30 seconds or so to ensure even heat distribution. Grilled asparagus is delicious on its own or topped with crumbled feta cheese and plenty of fresh herbs.
Asparagus in salads or pasta dishes
Use a mandolin or vegetable peeler to shave raw asparagus into thin strips for beautiful spring salads and light pasta-style dishes. Simply blanch the asparagus in boiling water for one minute, drain, and then plunge into a bowl of ice water to prevent overcooking and to preserve colour. Toss with a citrusy salad dressing or pesto for an elegant addition to your meal.
Roasting brings out the natural sweetness in asparagus and takes less time in the oven than other vegetables. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a foil or parchment-lined baking tray, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil using your hands to make sure the asparagus is evenly coated with oil. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper before roasting in a moderately hot oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.
Pairing asparagus with wine
Asparagus pairs best with white wines that are citrusy and light, think sauvignon blanc and off-dry Rieslings. Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine due to its distinct taste so be sure to avoid tannic red wines and oakey whites such as Chardonnay.