JOPLIN, Mo. —
There is no better time for asparagus lovers than right now. April and May mark the peak of the asparagus season. For the next several weeks, supplies of fresh asparagus will be abundant and relatively inexpensive.
Lane McConnell, who manages the Farmers Market of the Ozarks in Springfield and, as The Market Lady, travels the state visiting farmers markets to extoll the virtues of locally grown produce and meats, said the asparagus is a plant that grows well in cooler climates.
“If it gets too hot in May, it’s not going to do as well,” she said. “Asparagus likes the cool weather.”
Because of its short growing season, McConnell said asparagus once was considered a luxury vegetable and carried a hefty price tag out of season. That’s not the case now, McConnell said, but for many people, asparagus is still a vegetable to be treated with reverence and respect.
McConnell said her family has asparagus at least twice a week. She said besides it being delicious and full of nutrients, asparagus is a versatile food that’s relatively easy to prepare.
“We grill asparagus a lot. It doesn’t take very long. You just have to make sure your grill is preheated and sprayed with cooking spray. Or you can brush the asparagus with olive oil. It only takes about five minutes,” she said.
If there is one mistake that people make when preparing asparagus, McConnell said, it is over cooking the vegetable. That will turn asparagus into mush, she said.
When it comes to buying asparagus, McConnell says to stay away from thick stalks. The thicker the asparagus, the less likely it is to be tender. McConnell said she looks for asparagus that is about the width of a No. 2 pencil. The asparagus should also have a firm feel to it, she said.
When preparing asparagus for the grill or the oven, McConnell said it’s important to locate the natural break in a stalk where the woody stem gives way to the tender part of the stem. If you give the stalk a quick snap, the asparagus will sort of bend at the area of the natural break, she said.
If you don’t plan on serving your asparagus right away, McConnell suggests storing it in the refrigerator in a jar of water, much like a bouquet of flowers. Asparagus has a short shelf life and should be eaten within two or three days after it’s purchased.
McConnell also freezes asparagus in the spring and summer so she can pull it out in the winter to make asparagus soup or to roast in the oven. McConnell said to freeze asparagus, she blanches it and then puts it in freezer bags.
McConnell said she will either grill, roast or steam asparagus, but it also is good in stir-fry recipes and makes a tasty addition to a salad.
Here are some of McConnell’s favorite recipes, including her mother’s recipe for asparagus soup.
1 bunch asparagus, prepped
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
A couple drizzles of olive oil
2 cloves, minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Toss all ingredients with prepped asparagus and place in a 2-quart baking casserole pan. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 11 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus).
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped white onion
3 cloves, minced garlic
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
1 bunch fresh asparagus, prepped and cooked in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes until tender
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, salt and pepper. Stir together. Add the milk and cook until thick. Add chicken stock, onions and garlic. Remove from heat. Add the cooked asparagus.
Now blend the soup together either using a hand mixer or a food processor until the soup is smooth. Check the taste, might add a little more salt or pepper. Serve hot.
Source: Jan Baldwin (McConnell’s mother)
Fresh asparagus salad
1/2 lb. thin asparagus stalks
4 medium, ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced and cut vertical
2 cloves, minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare asparagus and steam the stalks for 31/2 minutes. Then transfer to a cold water bath (to stop the cooking process you must place asparagus in a bowl of ice cold water, then drain). Cut asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces.
Combine asparagus, onion, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro in a large glass bowl. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, oil and cumin and whisk together and drizzle over the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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