Asparagus, like the robin and the crocus, is a sign of spring, and one eagerly awaited by fans of this delicious, nutritious vegetable. Asparagus adoration is not a recent phenomenon – a cookbook from the third century included a recipe, and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all harvested the sturdy stalks with feathery foliage.
The word “asparagus” comes from classical Latin, but in England, early devotees called it “sperage” from the Medieval Latin word “sparagus,” a derivative of a Greek term that means “sprout” or “shoot.” Nicknames for the enduring vegetable include “sparrow grass,” “aspar grass” and “spar grass.” Whatever you call it, this is a vegetable worthy of appreciation.
Green asparagus is admired and devoured around the world, but white asparagus, also known as spargel, has a large following as well. Considered less bitter than the green variety, white asparagus could grow to be green, but the stalks are covered so the plant does not absorb sunlight. Northern Europeans refer to white asparagus as “white gold.”
China is said to produce the most asparagus and Peru is the world’s leading exporter. The United States comes in third when it comes to producing asparagus with almost 80 percent of the U.S. crop grown in California.
Low in calories and full of antioxidants, asparagus is considered a “super food.” A good source of fiber and protein, asparagus contains two to three grams per serving, and delivers important vitamins and minerals, including:
When shopping, look for tender stalks with intact heads. At home, rinse the asparagus and trim the end of each stalk. Store this green “bouquet” with stems in two inches of water in the refrigerator.
Asparagus lends itself to numerous cooking methods. Steam or grill it and serve plain, with butter or a cream sauce. Add chopped, cooked asparagus to risottos, omelets or salads. Serve steamed or roasted asparagus chilled, topped with chopped hard-cooked eggs and a little lemon juice mixed with mustard, olive oil and salt. Toss raw pieces into a stir-fry.
While some prefer asparagus extremely tender, others enjoy a satisfying crunch. Discover what you like best this spring.