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Asparagus: Spring’s simple treat

Asparagus Tartines (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Spring is here — and so is asparagus!

Although April had its last hurrah with a little white shower, most of our April precipitation has been of the liquid variety. The grass is green and flowers are blooming.

One of the first spring vegetables is asparagus, which appears in stores in April and May.

Grown in the Mediterranean basin for over 2,000 years, the perennial stalks are a dieter’s paradise. Each tender, flavorful spear has only four calories and is rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, A, C, and thiamine. The antioxidants in asparagus help combat the effects of free radicals and reduce cancer risk. A natural diuretic, asparagus can prevent urinary tract infections, as well as the bloat many women experience prior to menstruation. A good source of fiber, it is good for digestion. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.

A member of the lily family, asparagus is related to onions, leeks and garlic. The name comes from the Greek word for stalk or shoot. The Romans spread it throughout Europe, and it became popular in Britain, Germany, and central Europe, where it adapted to cooler climates and sandy soils.

The fresher the better; just-picked asparagus is a gardener’s treat. When shopping, avoid tips that are wilted or separated; that means the asparagus is past its prime.

If you need to store it, keep it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. To maintain freshness, wrap the stem ends in a damp paper towel, or stand them up in a couple inches of water.

Asparagus has a delicate flavor you don’t want to overpower, so simple is best when preparing it. Blanch some to munch on when you need a low-calorie snack. Roast it with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and garlic. Stir-fry briefly with button mushrooms, and serve over rice or couscous. Pan saute in olive oil, with garlic and lemon. Broil a couple minutes and then melt some fresh mozzarella on top. Chop it up and add it to tartines.

Serve as a side dish or stir into salads or pasta.

Simple Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 lb. asparagus

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon good-quality balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Wash asparagus. Trim tough ends and discard. Drain.

Spread the oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat for 2 minutes (It’s OK if the oven isn’t quite preheated yet).

Spread asparagus in single layer on baking sheet.

Place in preheated oven and roast until barely fork-tender, 10 – 20 minutes. The time will depend on the freshness of the asparagus and the thickness of the stems.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

Simple Stovetop Asparagus

Ingredients:

1 lb. asparagus

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley or fresh dill weed, chopped

Directions:

Wash asparagus. Trim tough ends and discard.

In a large skillet with lid, heat about a quarter-cup water.

Add asparagus spears in a single layer. Lower heat to a simmer and cook 5 to 10 minutes, or until barely fork-tender and most of the water has evaporated.

Remove from heat. Melt butter over hot asparagus. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon (2 – 3 teaspoons) over the asparagus. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves four.

Pasta Primavera with Asparagus and Peas

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. penne pasta

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 red onion

4 ounces portobello or button mushrooms

1 pound asparagus

10 ounces frozen peas

1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet to medium-low. Add red onion and portobello mushrooms, and cook 5 – 10 minutes.

Cut off tough ends of asparagus. Rinse spears, cut into 1 or 2 inch pieces, and add to the skillet, along with a half-cup of water from the cooking pasta. Cook about 5 minutes. Add the peas and continue cooking until warmed through.

Drain the pasta. In a bowl, combine pasta, contents of skillet, Parmesan cheese and fresh minced parsley. Toss to combine and serve.

Sprinkle on additional Parmesan as desired.

Serves four.

Farro Salad with Asparagus and Peas

Ingredients:

1/2 cup farro

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon prepared mustard

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

6 small red, yellow, and orange peppers, diced (about 1 cup)

1 bunch scallions (green and white parts), washed and sliced

10 stalks fresh asparagus, steamed or roasted unhtil just crisp-tender (about 5 minutes), sliced in 1-inch lengths

10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted

1 small bunch Italian parsley 1/2 cup minced

1 cup mild white cheese, like Queso Fresco, crumbled

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring 4 cups of water and half a teaspoon salt to a boil. Add one-half cup farro. Lower heat to simmer and cook 30 to 40 minutes, then drain and transfer to a bowl.

Stir in olive oil, mustard, and balsamic vinegar.

Fold in the vegetables and cheese, and serve.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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