Nothing says, “Spring is here” like a beautiful bunch of crisp asparagus. While asparagus is available year-round, it’s much better when purchased locally in season.
Asparagus is easy to select and to prepare and comes in a variety of colors including green, violet, purple, and white. Asparagus also grows wild and is commercially available fresh, frozen and canned. The stalks range in size from colossal to small. Various types and colors of asparagus can be used without any noticeable difference in the taste, so mix and match colors and sizes for visual interest.
Asparagus should be crisp and firm, not limp or wrinkled, with tightly-closed tips. Dull colors and ridges in the stems are an indication of a lack of freshness. The stalks should not be limp or dry at the cut, and of uniform thickness. Peeling the end of thicker stalks with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler removes any woody ends and can be done up to two hours before cooking.
Smaller stalks can be broken or cut at the point where the stem naturally snaps. Asparagus should never be washed or soaked before storing. If the asparagus is bound with a rubber band, remove it as it will pinch and bruise the stalks.
If you’re planning to use the asparagus on the same day, rinse it under cool water, pat the stalks dry with a paper towel, and place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Fresh asparagus can be stored for up to two days if the stalks are trimmed and placed upright in a jar with about an inch of water in the bottom. Cover the asparagus with a plastic bag and store the spears in the refrigerator.
Asparagus cooks in minutes in the oven or microwave, and can be steamed or boiled. It tastes delicious hot or cold and also freezes well. Asparagus is a nutritional power-house. One half-cup of cooked asparagus contains significant amounts of folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene. It’s also a heart-healthy food, and a natural diuretic.
This versatile vegetable works well as a room-temperature appetizer, blended into a soup, as the main ingredient in a colorful salad, as a flavorful and nutritious side dish or as part of a main course like my recipe for Lemon Chicken with Asparagus. Preparing asparagus is a delicious and nutritious way to celebrate Spring.
LEMON CHICKEN WITH ASPARAGUS
4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (about 1/2 pound each)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed and diced
1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends cut and discarded, cut into one inch pieces
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups cooked, Rice Select Orzo Pilaf Medley Texmati Rice
In a large non-stick skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat. Season the chicken pieces with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of the oil, 1 tablespoon of the poultry seasoning, the salt, pepper and the cayenne pepper, rubbing to coat both sides. Add the chicken to the skillet. Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside on a plate and cover it with foil to keep warm.
Add the garlic, red pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon of the poultry seasoning to the pan. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the zest, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup stock and bring to a simmer. Place the chicken back into the skillet. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Serve immediately over the hot rice pilaf.
The Kitchen Diva is Angela Shelf Medearis, a regular guest chef on “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Today Show.” She is the author of many cookbooks, including, “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” She blogs for Vitacost.com and Momonomics.com on a weekly basis.