Spear a thought for asparagus

14 Sep 2018

Not that we need reasons to look forward to spring, but if we did, fresh asparagus would have to be one of them. Here’s why we love our crispy, sweet, Australian-grown spears.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

I’m not sure how old I was when I started appreciating asparagus. I couldn’t stand the stuff as a child but with maturing adult taste buds came the wisdom that once you’ve let this delicious spring vegetable into your life, there’s no going back.

I’ve now been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Australian asparagus into my local green grocer for more years than I care to admit. Its appearance in early September heralds more than a fresh change for my veggie crisper – it signifies the start of spring, the onset of barbecue season and alfresco dining under tangerine West Australian sunsets.

Here in Oz, our diversity of climates mean asparagus is available from September through to March however, most is harvested between September and November. Of course, out of season produce is always available (usually imported from Peru, USA, Mexico and Thailand), but like all fresh fruit and veg, locally grown, in-season asparagus is far juicier, sweeter, crisper and a more vibrant shade of bright green.

 

Selecting your asparagus

Not all asparagus is green. While most is, Australian growers also produce a limited amount of prized purple (available in October and November), which is sweeter, has thicker stalks and is higher in antioxidants. You’ll also encounter white, which is simply green asparagus grown under a thick layer of mulch, or black plastic sheeting to deny young spears the sunshine they needs to change colour.

While the texture and price of the three varieties varies (white is more labour-intensive to grow, so is more expensive), you can use the same method to select the perfect spears. Firstly, look for firm, bright, smooth spears that are uniform in size with tight, compact tips. Secondly, feel for firm stalks – when fresh asparagus is snapped, it should break naturally towards the base and be crisp, moist and juicy.

 

Storing your asparagus

If you have room, stand your asparagus spears upright in the fridge in a glass of water, covered in plastic wrap or a loose plastic bag. If stored this way, the asparagus will remain crisp for between three to five days.

 

Why eat asparagus?

Not only does asparagus taste awesome, it’s also jam-packed with nutrients and other health benefits including:

  • Vitamin C, which supports immune system health.
  • Vitamin B, which helps our digestive system metabolise food.
  • Iron, which assists the flow of oxygen around the body.
  • Plus, asparagus is completely cholesterol-free, has virtually no fat and is extremely low on calories. Bonus!

 

How to eat asparagus?

Asparagus is incredibly easy and quick to cook – just two minutes is all it takes to perfectly blanch the spears for salads and crispy spring side dishes. In fact, the versatile veg suits most styles of cooking – simply snap off the woody ends and your veggie is also ready for steaming, grilling, baking and boiling.

Once cooked to your liking, there are myriad ways to enjoy asparagus – add it to spring salads, frittatas and quiches; stir it through risotto and pasta or pile it on top of pizzas and tarts. While the sky’s the limit, here are a few of our favourite ways to enjoy this super spring veg:

  • Grill asparagus whole then combine with other char-grilled vegetables like capsicum, sweet potato, zucchini and red onion, then top with a light vinaigrette to create a delicious warm salad.
  • Add asparagus to your next antipasto platter when guests are over – crunchy, just blanched asparagus tastes great alongside gourmet dips, cheeses and deli meats like prosciutto (you’ll find a great range of antipasto platter supplies at The Black Truffle).
  • Simply grill the spears, then coat them with salt, pepper, garlic and a liberal shaving of parmesan before serving as a side dish at your next barbecue.
  • Create a delicious, light spring tart by piling grilled spears and silky ricotta on top of flaky puff pastry
  • Finely shave asparagus with a vegetable peeler and toss through lunch box salads.
  • Whip up a delicious and healthy breakfast by pairing grilled spears with a gooey poached egg.
  • Jazz-up a simple cheese and leek quiche by laying uncooked asparagus spears across the top before popping the tart into the over to bake.

 

Find more great asparagus meal ideas on the Australia Asparagus Council website, or in store at The Black Truffle