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Get bunches of this nutritional powerhouse at our now-open farm markets.

It’s asparagus time!The biggest sign that spring has arrived here in Southwest Michigan is the sweetly scented, pastel-colored fruit blossoms now decorating our orchards. A close second is the appearance of Michigan-grown asparagus from now 'til early June in our farm markets and grocery stores.

Asparagus has been prized since ancient times.
Greeks and Romans served it to their families and guests. They believed these tasty green spears could alleviate toothaches and prevent beestings. Today, we know asparagus is a rich source of all kinds of nutrients, like fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, E and K. It also has chromium, which is known to enhance insulin's ability to transport glucose into cells from the bloodstream.

Like avocados, Brussels sprouts and kale, asparagus is rich in glutathione. This antioxidant helps break down carcinogens and dangerous free radicals. Eating it may help protect you against — and help your immune system fight — bone, breast, colon, larynx and lung cancers.

Pair it with fish, poultry, meat and dairy for a brain boost.
A study at Tufts University says that the folate in asparagus combined with the vitamin B12 found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy can help keep your cognitive strength and agility from declining as you age.

Yet another nutritional benefit from eating asparagus is that it's a natural diuretic that helps rid your body of excess salts. For folks with high blood pressure, other heart-related diseases and edema (fluid retention or bloating), it's a good vegetable to munch on.

Picking the best bunch.
Asparagus is best when it is fresh-snapped from the field. Firm, yet tender stalks with deep green or purple tips that are compact and closed indicate that it's at its ripest. You will know the asparagus is past its prime when the tips start to open or wilt.

Stalks should be green, nicely round and stand straight. The diameter is not related to the asparagus' flavor quality, but many people prefer stalks that are at least ½-inch in diameter. Remember, the more uniform the size of the stalks, the more even the cooking. Asparagus stored in walk-in coolers or buckets of cold water will be crisper than warm asparagus. As a main dish for two, at least one pound is needed. As a side dish, a pound will serve three to four people.

It's an easy-to-make, versatile veggie.
Like many vegetables, asparagus can be prepared in many quick and easy ways that — most importantly — preserve its nutritional value. Because the nutrients and fiber in asparagus are water soluble, it's best to cook it in little to no water.

To prepare for cooking, first, rinse your spears in cold water. Dunk the tips in and out of the cold water to remove any lingering sand and cut or break off the tough white ends. Then, use any of these delicious cooking styles:

  • Steam. Cut the asparagus into 3-to-4-inch lengths and add to a steamer basket in a pan with a small amount of water. Cover and bring the water to a boil. Or stand full-length spears upright in a tall pan, add a small amount of water and cover. Steam 5-8 minutes, based on the thickness of the stems.
  • Microwave. In an oblong dish, pointing the tips toward the center, add ¼ cup of water and cover. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through.
  • Roast. Place whole stalks in a baking dish, lightly drizzled or sprayed with olive oil. Bake at 500°F for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Grill. Turn the grill on to high heat. Spritz fresh asparagus spears with olive oil and place them on the grill. Turn the stalks halfway through the 2-to-3-minute cooking time.
  • Boil. Add about an inch of water to a large, flat skillet and bring to a rapid boil. Drop in whole spears with the thickest stalks first. Cook them for one minute, and then add the thinner stalks. Bring to a second boil for 3-5 minutes. Bear in mind, with this method many of the nutrients will be tossed out with the cooking water.
  • Chill. Asparagus served cold makes a popular appetizer. Wrap them in ham, turkey, bacon or cheese; or keep them plain and provide a dip like ranch dressing. After boiling, steaming or microwaving, immediately immerse them in icy-cold water, drain on paper towels and refrigerate.

Asparagus: dressed to impress.
There is no shortage of ways to bring this vitamin-packed vegetable to the table. Lightly season it with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, mustard sauce, savory or dill. Sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese, toasted breadcrumbs or crumbled egg whites. Toss it in herb-and-cheese-sprinkled pasta. Add chilled or raw shaved asparagus to tropical fruits, leafy greens, grilled shrimp and toss with a honey lime dressing for a refreshing salad. Check online for asparagus pizza recipes. In the unlikely event there are leftovers, you can use them to make a delicious, low-fat cream of asparagus soup.

Got a favorite recipe for this tasty veggie?
Share it with all of us! It's easy, just submit your recipe here. And here's one to add to your collection:

Phyllo-Wrapped Asparagus
Serves: 3 to 4
Ingredients

  • 9-12 Southwestern Michigan asparagus spears, washed and with ends cut or broken off
  • ½ (16 ounce) package of frozen phyllo dough sheets, thawed
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed or minced
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°F

2. Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the garlic and cook one minute until fragrant.

3. Unwrap the phyllo and cut the stack in half lengthwise. (Reserve the remaining phyllo for another use). Cover the phyllo with a damp towel to keep it from drying out.

4. Brush each phyllo sheet with the garlic butter. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

5. Place 3 spears on the short end of the sheet. Roll up jellyroll style. Place each roll, seam down, on a baking sheet. Brush with more melted garlic butter and sprinkle with Parmesan.

6. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes until dough is golden brown and asparagus is tender.

 

80% of Michigan asparagus is sold fresh—what are you waiting for?

Stop by these farm markets in the next three to four weeks:
Jollay Orchards & Farm Market: 1850 Friday Road, Coloma, MI 49038; 269.468.3075
Nye's Apple Barn: 3151 Niles Rd., St. Joseph, MI 49085; (269) 429-0596
Piggott's Farm Market & Bakery: 3824 E. Napier Ave., Benton Harbor, MI 49022; 269.876.9269

Like our Blossom Time, fresh-snapped asparagus season is short-lived, but long-loved, in Southwest Michigan. Enjoy a bunch soon, before it's gone!

Special thanks to Cheryl Forberg, R.D. and The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition (University of California at Berkeley) for assisting us with their asparagus facts and tips.