Seeing fresh asparagus is a sure sign that spring has arrived.
If you are beginning to see asparagus in Michigan, it is a sure sign spring might actually be here. Asparagus is part of the Lily family and believed to have originated in the Mediterranean area. Michigan ranks second in the nation for production of this nutritious vegetable, producing close to 20 million pounds during the 6-7 week growing season. This spring vegetable is loaded with nutrients and easy to prepare. Michigan State University Extension suggests looking for firm, bright smooth, spears uniform in size with closed, compact tips. Stalks should be at least ½ inch thick, with tight, closed tips, don’t purchase stalks that are withered, flat, split or woody. When you snap freshly harvested asparagus, it should be crisp, moist and juicy. Asparagus leads nearly all produce items in the wide array of nutrients it supplies in significant amounts for a healthy diet. It is low in calories, 20 calories per 5 ounce serving, has 3 grams of fiber per serving, and is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin, B6, and potassium.
Green and white asparagus can be harvested off of the same plant! Asparagus is planted approximately 10 inches below the surface of the soil. Asparagus turns green once it pokes out of the ground and photosynthesis happens. White asparagus is harvested just as it reaches the surface. White asparagus may be more expensive than green because it is more costly to harvest, a lot of the white asparagus may come from other countries. Purple asparagus is a fairly new product and is quite often in short supply due to its uniqueness. It will turn dark green when cooked.
Once asparagus has been picked, quality can be lost quickly. Plan to use it within one to three days after purchase or picking. To store, put a moist paper towel at the base of the bunch, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Do not wash until you are ready to prepare. Store asparagus in the refrigerator away from meat, poultry and seafood products, be sure to wash hands before and after handling produce. Rinse in cool running water, check tips for sand by dunking in and out of water and rinsing well and do not use soap! Trim off tough ends, the entire stalk is edible. Be careful to not overcook asparagus, it should be “fork tender”.
Ways to Prepare Asparagus
Asparagus can be boiled or blanched, steamed, sautéed, grilled, microwaved or added to stir-fry and pasta dishes. It is a versatile vegetable that can be left raw or cooked, served alone or added to many different recipes. Asparagus can also be preserved to enjoy later by blanching and freezing, pickling or pressure canning.
Be sure to check out the free Michigan Fresh fact sheets with recipes, gardening tips and preservation techniques for over eighty Michigan-grown foods available at www.michiganfresh.msue.msu.edu. It’s Michigan Fresh…for you!