Spring’s star vegetable: asparagus
There’s more to asparagus than rolls. When you eat it fresh and only lightly cooked, it’s packed with valuable nutrients for older adults. Available from early September to late December, asparagus is a spring tradition that deserves a place in your vegetable chiller.
By Julia Scott, National Dietitian, Arvida Group
History of asparagus
Asparagus originates from the Eastern Mediterranean region where it was valued as both a food and a medicine. It comes in three colours – green, purple and white – and still grows wild in countries bordering the Mediterranean Ocean.
A serving of asparagus a day helps to keep the doctor away, because asparagus is a good source of folate, dietary fibre, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin K. It also contains a range of phytonutrients, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are valuable for immunity and cellular repair.
How to grow asparagus
If you have well-drained soil in your vege garden and plenty of spring rain, you can grow asparagus. You only need to plant it once, in winter, to harvest stalks for up to 20 years.
Storage and handling
When you bring asparagus home from the shop, wrap the butt ends in paper towels and stand the spears up in a jar filled with about 2cm of water – like flowers in a vase. Alternatively, you can wash the asparagus and refrigerate in a plastic bag. Fresh asparagus squeaks when you rub it. Rubbery, flexible asparagus is not fresh.
Preparation and cooking
Rinse asparagus and snap off the hard ends; peeling is not required. Cook asparagus lightly, so that it’s still slightly crunchy. It can be steamed, microwaved, boiled, stir-fried, blanched quickly for a salad, roasted or barbecued. Here are some tips for these methods:
- Roasting: Put spears in a bag and drizzle in a little olive oil. Shake the bag to distribute the oil, then put the asparagus on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in a 200°C oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Steaming: Put asparagus in the top of a steamer pan with water in the lower part. Boil the water until asparagus is tender.
- Microwaving: Put asparagus in a microwave-proof dish with a little water. Cover dish with plastic wrap, leaving a small gap for steam to escape. Cook on high power for three minutes, then leave to stand for another three minutes.
- Boiling/blanching: Boil spears in salted water for about four minutes. Serve immediately as a hot vegetable or drop into ice water for use in a salad.
- Grilling and barbecuing: Put spears in a bag and drizzle in a little olive oil. Shake the bag to distribute the oil, then place spears on the grill or grill pan.
- Stir frying: Chop asparagus into bite-size pieces and stir fry in a wok with a little oil.
Arvida Asparagus Slice
Excellent for lunch, dinner or a picnic basket, this delicious and highly nutritious savoury slice uses basic ingredients that are found in most pantries, fridges and gardens. It can be stored in the fridge for up to three days or portioned and frozen for future use. Once the asparagus season is over, you can use beans, peas or broccoli as the green vegetable component.
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 2/3 cup plain yoghurt or milk
- ¼ cup grated tasty cheese
- ½ red onion, chopped finely
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 2 bunches asparagus spears
- 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread, chopped finely
- Preheat oven to 180°C and lightly oil a baking dish.
- Mix eggs, yoghurt, cheese, onion and herbs in a large bowl.
- Snap hard ends off asparagus. Put six spears aside for decoration, then cut the rest into small pieces.
- Mix asparagus chunks and bread together, then spread in baking dish.
- Pour over egg mixture and decorate with reserved asparagus spears. Let it stand for 15 minutes, to allow egg to soak into bread.
- Bake for 30 minutes until top is lightly browned.
- Serve warm or cold, accompanied by a salad.