The British season for asparagus is short – just May to June – so eat it while you can. Low in calories and with minimal fat, asparagus provides a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is particularly rich in fibre and folate – the latter is a natural source of folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Once asparagus is picked, the sugars in the plant start to turn to starch, so buy the freshest you can – check the sell-by date in supermarkets – or even better grow your own. When buying, look for tight, well-formed heads and firm stems and avoid discoloured asparagus or those with thin, woody, dry stems.
DID YOU KNOW…?
Asparagus is said to be a natural diuretic that can help to minimise water retention.
A really versatile ingredient, asparagus partners well with a surprising number of dishes. Below are a few ideas.
WAYS TO COOK
To prep, wash thoroughly in cold water to remove any loose dirt. Then trim the stalks to remove any tough bits and snap off the ends, leaving tender stalks. There are a variety of ways you can cook asparagus.
Boil The most common method is to drop the spears into a pan of boiling water and cook until tender, about three to five minutes.
Steam Place asparagus in a steamer or in a metal colander placed over a pan of boiling water until tender, about three minutes.
Microwave Place asparagus on a microwave-safe plate, sprinkle with lemon juice and follow the directions for your microwave.
Grill or griddle Cook under a medium grill or in a health grill or griddle pan until tender, about five minutes.
Roast Spray with a low-cal oil spray and roast in a hot oven for about 10 minutes.
5 WAYS WITH… ASPARAGUS
ROAST ASPARAGUS Place asparagus spears on a non-stick baking tray, lightly spray with olive oil spray and sprinkle with a little salt. Roast in a hot oven (200C, 400F, Gas Mark 6) for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with black pepper.
ASPARAGUS PASTA SALAD Mix cold, cooked asparagus spears with equal amounts of cold, cooked pasta shells. Add finely sliced or diced vegetables – carrots, shallots, red pepper – a little dried oregano and some oil-free dressing and mix well.
WARM ASPARAGUS AND PEPPER SALAD Blanch 450g asparagus spears in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, then place in a preheated health grill or griddle pan with 1 yellow pepper, cut into chunks. Cook until the pepper is coloured, then arrange on a bed of salad leaves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
ASPARAGUS STIR-FRY Preheat a non-stick wok. Slice 450g fresh, trimmed asparagus, add to the wok and cook for 1 minute, seasoning with black pepper. Add a pack of stir-fry vegetables along with 1 tbsp soy sauce and the juice of 1 lime. Toss well and serve.