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The Kitchen Agent, At the table: Asparagus

The spring veggie that’s easy to buy, prepare, cook and goes with everything
Asparagus is most delicious and inexpensive in the spring when it’s in season. This is one of the easiest and most versatile vegetables to cook with. Whether you cook it or eat it raw, asparagus is a bright fresh addition to any meal. This vegetable is packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.
Here’s what you need to know when you go pick out some asparagus at the grocery or farmer’s market. Look for green stalks that are 4 to 6 inches long. Stalks should also be at least ½ inch thick with tight, closed tips. Do not buy withered, flat, white, split or woody stalks. Slimy asparagus need to be tossed.
When you get it home, be sure to store it properly. Once picked, asparagus loses quality quickly. Plan to use within one to three days after purchase. Don’t wash or cut the asparagus until you are ready to use it. To store, put a moist paper towel at the base of the bunch, place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.
To prepare, first wash asparagus in cool, running water. If the tips have any sand on them, dunk in and out of water, then rinse well. Trim off any tough, white ends. The entire remaining green stalk is edible and nutritious. To ensure even cooking, some cooks like to peel the outer layer off the end of the spear. I don’t — it cooks just fine without peeling, plus it’s less prep work.
Do not overcook asparagus. It will retain its bright green color, crisp tenderness and sweetness if you cook just until a fork can pierce the stalk. The longer you cook asparagus, like any vegetable, the fewer nutrients you will retain. Remember, short cook time equals more nutrients.
Asparagus can be blanched or boiled in a small amount of water, microwaved, steamed or stir-fried. Serve plain, or brush with a small amount of margarine, butter or lemon juice. Asparagus spears, blanched for 2 minutes, can be served with a dip along with other raw veggies. Or, cut the blanched spears at an angle and toss into a salad. Try adding angle-cut spears to a stir-fry, casserole, soup or omelet.
If you’ve never cooked with asparagus before, don’t worry, it’s not hard — however the woody end on the bottom of the vegetable is, so break that off before you get started. Asparagus can be prepared very simply by boiling, microwaving, grilling or steaming.
Here’s how:
To blanch or boil:Use a pan in which you can lay the asparagus flat, like a skillet. Bring about an inch of water (enough to cover) to a rapid boil. Add the washed and trimmed asparagus. Quickly bring to a second boil and cook, uncovered, 2 to 5 minutes, depending upon whether you are blanching or cooking.
To steam:Although there are special asparagus steamers on the market, you can use a standard steaming basket by simply cutting the washed and trimmed spears into pieces that fit your basket. In a pan that fits your basket, bring an inch of water to a boil. Add asparagus, and cover. Steam 5 to 8 minutes.
To microwave:Place a pound of washed, trimmed asparagus in a covered dish with ¼ cup water. Cook at highest power 4 to 8 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking. If desired tenderness has not been reached, let stand a few minutes.
To stir-fry:Angle-cut the washed and trimmed spears into 1-to 2-inch pieces. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil for each dozen spears. Stir-fry in hot oil 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. If desired tenderness has not been reached, cover and let stand for a minute.
Grill/broil:Place asparagus in a plastic bag, drizzle with olive oil and low-sodium seasoning. Shake until asparagus is coated, then put spears on a preheated (medium-high heat) grill or under a hot broiler. Cook about 5-8 minutes until tender, turning occasionally.
Check out the Boyle County Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. in the parking lot at Danville High School, 203 E. Lexington Ave., for some awesome local produce. Get there early and you might get your hands on a bundle of local asparagus.
If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at a.price@uky.edu.