It’s always such an exciting time of year when beautiful stalks of green and white asparagus start to line supermarket shelves and farmers market stands. If you’re lucky, you might also find the rarer purple asparagus, a sweeter variety with a vibrant hue.
Asparagus is best from February through June, but it’s ideal to jump in on the season as early as possible, since this is when the most tender stalks are harvested. Select bunches with snappy-looking stalks and tight, vivid green tips (some purple is acceptable as well; most importantly, make sure they're not mushy), or pale white stalks in the case of white asparagus. White asparagus, a variety popular in Europe, is grown underground and hence never develops chlorophyll, a green pigment that helps capture sunlight for growth. Thicker stalks tend to come from older plants and may not be as tender; you can use a vegetable peeler to remove their tough skins. Store asparagus upright in a shallow pan of water in the refrigerator for several days.
Asparagus is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K and also folate and iron. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and is a good source of antioxidants. To preserve its nutritional value, it is best to keep any cooking to a minimum. It can be prepared in a variety of ways, most popularly by sautéeing or grilling.
It can add an excellent depth of flavor to salads, pastas, egg dishes, and pairs well with fish, chicken, and seafood. When cooking with asparagus, remove the tough woody stems at the bottom by holding the bottom end of each spear in one hand, and grasping the middle in the other hand, and bending gently until it breaks. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Tonelli)
Asparagus used to be one of those vegetables that was considered a luxury, but now is easily found in most produce aisles; in some places, it’s even available year-round. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, whether it’s part of an elegant hors d’oeuvre or simply served as a side dish, and it’s good for you, too. So snap some stalks and put a little more green in your diet.