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Exploring Asparagus: How to Love This Beautiful Plant

Updated on July 31, 2017
fresh asparagus spears
fresh asparagus spears

It's All About the Love

President John Adams once wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he asked her

"Pray, how does your asparagus perform?"

Wow, what a romantic!

It is June, and asparagus is performing very well in my little corner of the world. Large grocery stores, family-owned markets, and even little produce stands are all heralding the arrival of the first tender Spring asparagus spears. I am delighted; however, based on the results of a recent Google search, I sense that I might be all alone in my enthusiasm.

The Facts Ma'am, Just the Facts

Asparagus is a perennial (that means it grows year after year) vegetable with sturdy stems and feathery foliage that grows 40 to 60 inches tall. Asparagus is a native plant in Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia and is cultivated throughout the world. Plants must be 2 to 3 years old before they produce a crop, but after that can be quite prolific; they have a life span of at least 20 years. The "crowns" of asparagus are planted in winter, and the first shoots appear in spring; the first pickings or "thinnings" are known as sprue asparagus.

Asparagus is said to be a useful companion plant for tomatoes as the tomato plant repels the asparagus beetle. And in return, it is thought that asparagus may repel some harmful root nematodes that affect tomato plants. See, it really is about the love!

Asparagus Is Easy to Grow

  • Botanical name: Asparagus officinalis
  • Plant type: Vegetable
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • Sun exposure: Part Sun
  • Soil type: Sandy
  • Soil pH: Slightly Acidic to Neutral

How to Select, Store, and Prepare Asparagus for Cooking

  • One pound of asparagus yields about 18 to 24 spears
  • Spears thinner than a pencil should be overlooked—I know there are a few fans but I find them to be stringy, not tender
  • Spears should be smooth and tips should be closed
  • Spears that are dull green, have tips beginning to open, or have ridges on the stems are showing signs of age. They will be tough and stringy, so don't buy them!
  • Choose spears of uniform thickness so that they will all cook at the same rate.
  • Do not wash asparagus until you are ready to cook it.
  • Trim about 1 inch from the ends and stand your asparagus upright in a tall glass; keep refrigerated, but not longer than 2 days
  • Because asparagus is grown in sandy soil, rinse the spears (especially the tips) with cold water. Snap off the woody base of each spear by bending the spear a few times to find a place where it breaks easily. This is usually around the bottom third of the spear and where the woody part starts to turn tender.
  • If desired, scrape off the scales of the spears with a vegetable peeler. This gives the spears a smooth, clean look and is especially beneficial for tough or fat spears.

Can We Say Anything Nice About Asparagus?

That's easy! Asparagus is:

  • High in B vitamins
  • Has anti-oxidants and inflammatory properties
  • Provides probiotics to your digestive system
  • May protect against some forms of cancer

Curtis Stone Explains it Better Than I Ever Could

5 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Fresh Asparagus Recipes

Recipes!

I promised you recipes, and here are a few of my favorites. This first one only takes about 15 minutes including preparation time.

Roasting brings out the sweetness in asparagus spears. For best results choose spears that are medium in size—no bigger around than your little finger, but not smaller. This recipe is easy enough to prepare for your family, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve it for company:

Roasted Asparagus with Wild Mushroom Sauté (serves 4)

  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter (do not use margarine)
  • ¾ pound mushrooms (assortment of crimini, oyster, shiitake, button, or chanterelle), sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup crisp white wine (i.e. Riesling)
  • ½ tsp. dried tarragon leaves
  • Fresh lemon wedges (optional)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Trim tough ends from asparagus spears. Toss with olive oil and then place in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While asparagus is roasting, melt butter in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until they begin to brown—about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and wine. Cook until wine is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in tarragon.

Divide roasted asparagus spears among 4 plates. Top with mushroom mixture. Serve warm. Squeeze fresh lemon on individual servings as desired.

This second recipe is about as simple as it gets. It makes a wonderful appetizer:

Asparagus, Parmesan and Prosciutto Bundles (serves 4)

  • 12 thin asparagus spears
  • 12 slices of prosciutto
  • About 3 ounces of Parmesan cut into sticks 3 inches long x ½ inch thick

Snap the touch ends from each asparagus spear. Cook in boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately plunge into ice water. Drain and pat dry.

Cut each spear in half (one half will contain the tip and the other half will contain the bottom of the spear).

Lay prosciutto slices in single layer on work surface. Place one asparagus tip and one asparagus bottom crosswise near the short end of each slice of prosciutto. Place one cheese stick on top of each pair of asparagus spears. Roll up prosciutto to enclose asparagus and cheese. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Wild Rice Asparagus Salad (serves 4)

  • 2 cups wild rice, uncooked
  • 3 cups sliced fresh asparagus (see note below)
  • 1 cup smoked salmon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 4 cups cooked wild rice
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Cook the wild rice according to package instructions. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside.
  2. Combine cooked, cooled wild rice with asparagus, salmon, dried cranberries, and hazelnuts. Mix well.
  3. Prepare dressing, add to salad, and toss.

Dressing: Combine white wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt in small mixing bowl.

NOTE: How to prepare the asparagus for this recipe:

Grasp each asparagus spear with two hands. Bend. It will break where the spear changes from "woody" to "edible". Throw away the woody end. Next use a vegetable peeler to remove the "scales". Start just below the tip and gently scrape to remove the scales and tough skin. Now cut off the tips (which are VERY tender), and then diagonally slice the stem into 1/4-inch slices.

Asparagus/Mushroom Risotto (serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ pound thin asparagus spears, ends removed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3-4 cups chicken, vegetable, or mushroom broth, heated to a simmer
  • 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 1/4 cup marscapone cheese

  1. Cut asparagus into 1-inch long pieces. Separate the tip ends from the stem pieces.
  2. In large frying pan melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and asparagus stem pieces; cook until mushrooms are lightly browned and asparagus is crisp-tender (3 to 4 minutes). Stir in thyme.
  3. Add 1/4 cup of the wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Add asparagus tips to pan. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm. (Asparagus tips are delicate and will cook with the residual heat in the pan).
  4. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice, pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup white wine. Stir to insure that rice does not clump together and cook until wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup broth; reduce heat to low, and stir until broth is almost absorbed. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in center. This should take about 15 to 18 minutes.
  5. Stir in mushrooms and asparagus. Remove from heat and stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and mascarpone cheese.

Do You Like Asparagus?

See results

© 2015 Linda Lum

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    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Paintdrips - I'm glad you enjoyed the recipes. Although I have 2 acres, I have not attempted to grow asparagus. I sense that they would be ravaged by the deer so, like you, I purchase mine at the produce stand.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thanks for the recipes. I love asparagus and used to grow it when I had plenty of land. Now that I live in an apartment, I sadly have to buy my asparagus. Thanks.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Patricia - thank you for your kind words and support.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Flourish. If you have never had asparagus and want to give it a try, I would suggest the roasted asparagus. Roasting makes it sweet. I hope you will give it a try. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Yummy recipes. Asparagus is so versatile that it makes it a great go-to food My parents grew it every year...lots of it..and it was one of our favorites.

      Your suggestions on how to care for it are spot on too.

      Voted up++++ shared g+ tweeted Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I've never had it. My mother hates it so I grew up having never even tried it, and then as an adult iit became one of those things I didn't eat ... for no reason.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Alphadogg16. Your grilled asparagus could be used in place of the roasted asparagus in the first recipe (with the sautéed mushrooms). I hope you like the recipes. Let me know which one(s) you try. Thanks for your support.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      I usually just grill the Asparagus Carb Diva, but these recipes look pretty tasty and I will definitely have to give them a shot. Thumbs up on your Hub.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Thank you Rachel. The roasted asparagus is really good--amazing how that blast of heat gives it a totally different taste. I'm thinking you could really jazz it up with a shaving of Pecorino-Romano after it comes out of the oven, and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts. I appreciate your support. Have a great day.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      I know not everyone likes asparagus, but my family loves, it. They are strange, they don't like salad but they love asparagus, so I was happy to see recipes and a hub for this vegetable. I voted up and awesome. Thanks for sharing. I really like the roasted asparagus and wild mushroom sauce. Blessings to you.

    • Carb Diva profile image
      Author

      Linda Lum 3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Ah Bill, what can I say? At least try the one with prosciutto. Everything is better with bacon, right? Have a great Thursday.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I think John Adams was a dirty old man. LOL

      I'll have you know that I do eat asparagus and we do grow it, so there!!!!!

      Let me put it this way: I tolerate asparagus. I don't hate it. And I will give Bev this article and we will try the recipe.

      Whew! Now I have to work up the courage. :)

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