Spring Spears

Eating green is easy this month as fresh asparagus hits its flavor peak.

 asparagus

Whether you prefer spring asparagus steamed until crisp-tender and served with hollandaise sauce or slow-roasted with olive oil and sea salt, now is the time to indulge in this versatile and delicious vegetable.

May is the height of asparagus season, whether it’s grown locally or farther afield in top-producing states such as California or Michigan. The spears are the tender shoots of a 4-foot-tall fernlike perennial with bright red berries, Asparagus officinalis, which is a member of the lily family.

Since Greek and Roman times, this plant has been prized, and as long ago as the first century, it was considered to have powerful medicinal qualities. It’s certainly true that when it comes to health, asparagus is a powerhouse—it has more of the antioxidant gluthione than any other vegetable and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Domestically grown asparagus is likely to come in gorgeous shades of vivid green or dark purple, and varies in width from pencil-thin to as big around as your thumb. In Europe, the most popular type of asparagus is very fat, smooth-skinned and white; the blanched color results from burying the shoots underground while they grow and mature.

In comparison with other produce, asparagus tends to be expensive, mainly because of the way it is cultivated. The shoots become thick enough to be marketed only after two to three years; growers must always have some portion of their asparagus beds in a nonproductive state. In addition, the plant requires careful tending and hand harvesting.

When it comes to eating and enjoying asparagus, freshness is of the utmost importance, since the quality of its flavor and texture decreases quickly in storage. Simple food science explains why: After picking, asparagus continues to grow, consuming its own sugars more rapidly than almost any other common vegetable after the harvest. This quickly leads to flat flavor and a stalk that becomes increasingly woody and fibrous starting from the base up. Just-picked asparagus will always be your best bet in terms of quality, and that’s exactly what you’ll find at local farmers’ markets, which open this month.
 

All About Asparagus:

Locally grown asparagus is a top seller this time of year at markets such as the Citiparks Farmers’ Markets, which open at five locations May 14 (412/422-6523, city.pittsburgh.pa.us). You can also visit the Buy Fresh Buy Local website (buylocalpa.com) to find out which growers and farm stands in your area offer fresh asparagus. Here are some easy tips for making the most of this springtime treat.

Selection
Smooth skin, bright-green color and a fresh-looking cut on the bottom are all indicators of quality; avoid spears with cut ends that look dried out. Look for firm, compact heads on the tips of the spears. If the heads have started to elongate and spread apart, the plant may have started to bolt, which means it was harvested too late; this will translate into toughness and a bitter, grassy flavor.

Storage
To ensure the best storage, treat the bright-green, slender stems of asparagus as you would fresh flowers—place them cut-side down in 2 inches of tepid water and store in the refrigerator or wrap the ends in a moist paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag. For the best results, use within a couple of days.

Preparation
A centuries-old method of trimming asparagus still remains trustworthy today: Bend the stalk from tip to base. There will be a natural stress point where you can break apart the stalk, separating the tough lower portion from the tender top. If you prefer, you can also trim the ends by about one-quarter inch with a sharp knife. For the best results, peel any spears that are larger than the diameter of your little finger; holding the spear by the tip, peel downward using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler. If you’re in doubt about whether to peel, bite into the raw vegetable—if the skin is tough and fibrous to the bite, it’s worth peeling.

Cooking

You may have seen the upright pots designed for cooking asparagus. They enable you to place bundled asparagus cut-side down into a perforated insert, which is lowered into a pot of boiling water so the tips stay above the water level—a time-honored French way to prepare it. Such equipment is by no means necessary, of course. You can boil asparagus in a large stockpot, use a steamer, slice it diagonally to about one-quarter-inch thick and sauté it, or peel and parboil it for a minute before grilling. It’s also delicious roasted.

Asparagus has less than 4 calories per spear.

Roasted Asparagus Two Ways:

Roasting intensifies and sweetens the naturally delicious flavor of asparagus. These two recipes take just seconds to prepare and always please a crowd.

Roasted Asparagus With Parmesan:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large glass baking dish, toss 1 pound of peeled, trimmed asparagus with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast until the asparagus is just tender-crisp, about 10 minutes. Toss with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and serve immediately. If you like, you can substitute pecorino romano or asiago for the parmesan. Serves four.

Roasted Asparagus With Pesto:
Follow the instructions above, but toss the hot roasted asparagus with 2 tablespoons of store-bought pesto before serving. Serves four.
 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has been lobbying for more direct service from Pittsburgh to the West Coast.
Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

The online grocery delivery service opened this week, promising delivery in 45 minutes or less to selected neighborhoods.
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.
Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

The Ross native finished third on NBC's “The Voice” in December of 2014.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has been lobbying for more direct service from Pittsburgh to the West Coast.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Our dining critic (and Three Day Blow organizing committee member) has a roundup of some open to the public events.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

Reviews of "Hands of Stone" and "Don't Breathe," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments