The Many Health Benefits of Asparagus (and 5 Easy Recipes)

Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash.

Lean, green, and packed with vitamins and minerals, asparagus stands as spring’s most powerful veggie. Low in fat and calories — one cup has less than 30 calories — but high in fiber, asparagus boasts vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, plus copper, calcium, folate, and iron. It’s also anti-inflammatory, has powerful antioxidant properties, and works as a natural diuretic. Plus, asparagine, one of the veggie’s vital amino acids, aids in the development and function of the brain, according to a study published in 2013 in the journal “Neuron,” making asparagus an important ally when it comes to brain health.

When is Asparagus at its Peak Season?

“What with the wacky weather we have been having in the Midwest the last decade or two, it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly when asparagus season will decide to start,” explains fine produce purveyor Dave Odd of Odd Produce. “Sometimes you will start to see it in early April, sometimes it doesn’t get going until the second week of May. But typically at least around Chicagoland, May 1st is a good time to start looking.”

How to Select Asparagus

asparagus

Photo by Frank Vincentz.

When it comes to choosing your stalks, you can let your personal preferences guide you. “More often than not when picking asparagus, you are going to find wildly different stalks, from tiny little baby shoots that are still pink, to 2-foot stalks the width of a banana, to full-on, grown-out Christmas tree-looking plants,” explains Odd. “When it looks like a Christmas tree, it’s well past its prime and inedible. Personally I prefer the bolted tips of the stalks that have already started to mature. Each little node on the asparagus tip turns into a branch of the plant, which then produces what looks like a miniature asparagus, which then bolts into more branches. Those little shoots are my favorite part and only need to be cooked for a few seconds if at all. They are great raw all by themselves. The general rule with asparagus is wherever it snaps off easily is the tender part. Any part you have to wrestle with or saw through is going to be way too tough to eat.”

Take advantage of asparagus, spring’s superfood, in its peak season, with these five easy recipes.

Garlic Roasted Asparagus 

roasted asparagus

The easiest way to prepare asparagus is to oven roast it, adding minced garlic for extra flavor and nutrition.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus (about 1 pound), rinsed and trimmed
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Olive oil spray
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place atop a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spray lightly with olive oil spray (or toss in 2 tablespoons of olive oil) then sprinkle with minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 8 minutes.

Lemon Asparagus Fettuccine

Creamy and rich, this easy pasta dish makes for the perfect springtime primo piatto.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus (about 1 pound), rinsed and trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions: 

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook fettuccine according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, chop the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Simmer the asparagus in a large skillet, in about 1/2 inch of water, for about 2 minutes, until slightly tender. Drain the asparagus and return it to the skillet.

Add the butter and minced garlic to the skillet with the asparagus and sauté for about three minutes. Add the cream and the juice of one lemon and bring to a boil. Toss the pasta into the skillet along with the grated Parmesan cheese. Use a grater to zest the lemon onto the pasta as a final touch before serving.

Asparagus Tart

Put your prized asparagus on display with this elegant appetizer.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (9 x 9-inch), thawed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus (about 1 pound), rinsed and trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out, creating a 10 x 14-inch rectangle, and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Fold the edges into a 1/2-inch crust and pierce holes in the pastry Bake for 10 minutes, until golden.

In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta, egg, and Parmesan. Spread the mixture in an even layer over the baked puff pastry. Arrange the asparagus atop the ricotta mixture, alternating ends and tips, and brush lightly with olive oil. Season with pepper to taste.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

cream of asparagus soup

This hearty, rich soup calls for just five pantry-ready ingredients and takes less than 30 minutes from stovetop to table.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 bunches fresh asparagus (about 2 pounds), rinsed and trimmed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 cups chicken (or veggie) broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions: 

Chop asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces.

Sauté onion in butter in a 4-quart pot over moderately low heat, until softened. Add asparagus and sauté, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add broth and simmer, covered, until asparagus is tender, about 20 minutes.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth, transferring to a bowl, then return to soup pot. Stir in heavy cream. Simmer on low heat for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spring Produce Powerhouse Smoothie

asparagus smoothie

Photo by Kari Sullivan.

Blend the powerful produce of spring into an easy, energizing smoothie.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed and trimmed
  • 1 banana
  • 2 dates
  • 1 apple with skin, cored and cut up
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup ice cubed

Directions: 

Blend the ingredients together until smooth. Serves one.

 

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Amy Bizzarri is a Chicago-based freelance writer focused on food and travel. She has a keen interest in Chicago history and is the author of “111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss” and “Discovering Vintage Chicago.” Amy is also a proud member of [email protected], a movement that works to ensure children around the globe have access to the vaccines they need.

 

 

 

 

 

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