One of my favorite seasonal veggies this time of year, fresh asparagus is excellent when grilled, steamed, sautéed, roasted or even raw. And it’s easily incorporated into a number of delicious dishes.
The core season for fresh asparagus runs from approximately early spring through summer, so now is the best time to take advantage of this wonderful veggie.
Asparagus is a flowering perennial plant that does extremely well in our area. As the soil begins to warm, fresh green shoots of asparagus emerge from an intertwining root system underground, which will eventually become hard and woody if left connected to the plant as it reaches full maturity.
The small tender green shoots are the desired edible portion, so if you have ever purchased asparagus that seems too tough, it was most likely harvested past its prime.
Like most fresh fruits and vegetables, asparagus is best when enjoyed as close to harvest as possible.
When selecting your asparagus, look for stalks that are erect, vibrant in color, and green from tip to base. To retain the freshness and moisture in the stocks, the vegetable’s natural tendency is to seal up the base end. The longer you have harvested asparagus in your possession, the woodier the texture will be towards the base.
Once home, asparagus should be stored in a dry plastic bag or food storage container in the refrigerator. About one inch of the base end is usually discarded before preparing to rid of the drier and tougher texture. If the tip is slimy, or possesses an odd aroma, it is past its prime and should be discarded.
There are several ways to prepare asparagus. Some people enjoy it raw, either chopped or shaved, but the majority prefers the sweeter nuttier flavor that develops when it is lightly cooked.
Personally I prefer my asparagus “al dente,” with a subtle crunch, but you can also get a buttery texture when letting it cook for a little longer.
My preferred method of cooking is on the grill, as I love that slightly charred flavor.
No matter how you prepare it, only a couple of minutes of heat exposure are all you will need to get it just right.
Asparagus is wonderful as a great side dish to your grilled meats, when added to your favorite stir-fry, or when used to top a mixed green salad. With fresh beets, spinach and blood oranges currently in season, I decided to whip up a simple and flavorful salad, packed with flavor.
When you top asparagus with a little crumbled goat cheese and freshly chopped herbs, you can’t go wrong.
Asparagus, Beet, Spinach and Blood Orange Salad
2 bunches asparagus
1 bunch beets, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
8 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed and dried, stems removed
2 blood oranges, peeled, pith removed, and sliced into wedges
One-quarter cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (or any fresh herbs you prefer)
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove about one inch from the base end of your asparagus and set aside.
Toss your beets with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, add beets in a single layer and place in the oven. Roast for about 30 minutes or until fork tender.
When the beets are soft to your liking, toss the asparagus into the beet mixture and place back in the oven. Cook for about 3-4 more minutes and remove from the oven and let slightly cool.
Season the beets and asparagus with additional salt and pepper to taste if needed. Place the spinach in a large mixing bowl and toss the beets and asparagus with the greens.
Top with blood oranges and crumbled fresh goat cheese over the top.
The juice from the blood oranges and beets, along with the light amount of olive oil and flavor of goat cheese and asparagus should create enough of a dressing on its own.
If more is desired, add a small drizzle of your favorite vinaigrette.
Yield: Serves 2 large or 4 side salads.