Author: Lily Mazzarella
Harbinger of Spring Out here in California, we're lucky to see asparagus spears poking up as early as February. Asparagus season starts elsewhere in March or April, and its cheerful appearance is a sign to the snow-weary that Spring is finally here. Asparagus has a lot going for it, not the least of which is a notably fast preparation time.
What's good about it? Asparagus contains high amounts of folate, vitamin K, and thiamin, as well as inulin, a "prebiotic" that feeds beneficial gut flora. Folate helps run our methylation cycles, which is crucial for everything from detoxification to neurotransmitter production and defense against viruses. Vitamin K participates in healthy blood clotting, bone and cardiovascular health, while thiamin (B1) helps fuel our cells' energy cycles. Herbalists use asparagus to soothe the urinary tract, while traditional Chinese medicine considers it to be Yin enhancing–nourishing to watery, anchoring principle that keeps us fluid, flexible, and full of reserves.
How do I choose it and store it? At risk of stating the obvious, skip over asparagus that seems old or faded—its nutrient content is seriously compromised (folate, for example, breaks down quickly in light). Good stems are round, firm, with dark, tightly closed tips. Most commercially available asparagus is green to purple in color—purple can be sweeter. Happily, asparagus is on the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15" list—meaning that you don't have to buy it organic. It's important to store asparagus properly and use it quickly, as it has a very high rate of respiration: after it has been cut, asparagus continues its metabolic activities, which outstrip those of the average vegetable. It gets tired. Tired asparagus will harden, wrinkle, and lose nutritional value. You can offset this by wrapping the base of your bunch in a damp cloth and storing in the fridge. It is best to consume your asparagus within 48 hours.
Asparagus Pee: There is no final word on what causes the distinctive urine odor in a subset of asparagus eaters. There are 20+ compounds associated with the smell (which can occur within an hour of eating asparagus), and a probable genetic component. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you.
7 Minute Asparagus: Many of us have never had properly prepared asparagus—only overcooked and slightly slimy stuff. Done right, asparagus is firm, earthy, and slightly sweet, with no mushy collapse as you bite in.
Snap the base off of your bunch of asparagus (I usually aim for 6-7 stems per person). If you hold the base and bend the stalk, there will be a natural breaking point—I like to observe this line rather than arbitrarily trimming the bottoms with a knife. Rinse, or if sandy/dirty, soak and agitate lightly in cold water.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt.
Submerge the asparagus in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes.
Quickly strain and douse in cold water.
Dress with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon.
Preheat oven to 400, and allow to come fully to temp.
Toss asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place on baking sheet or dish.
Cook for 6 minutes. While baking, remove the peel from a ¼ of a lemon.
Scrape out some of the pith and sliver into matchsticks.
After removing asparagus from the oven, toss with lemon peel and enjoy!
Raw asparagus? One of my favorite salad toppings is shaved, raw asparagus. I had this for the first time last Spring at Flora in Oakland—it was a revelation! Why had I never eaten asparagus raw? It makes you instantly fancy. Plus, shaving it takes less than 7 minutes.
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