Saturday, May 17, 2008

Springtime and asparagus - can't have one without the other.

Asparagus. A culinary delicacy and medicinal marvel for over 2,000 years that is rich in folate, vitamins K, C, and A, several B vitamins, tryptophan, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper, iron and zinc. One cup gives you fifteen percent of your recommended daily intake of fiber, and if you’re like me, you can’t eat just one.

This is a detox vegetable; the abundant folate (almost 66% of RDV per one cup serving) assists with the methylation cycle. Folate is also important in reducing heart attacks and birth defects. Inulin, an indigestible sugar, feeds friendly bacteria in the digestive tract and helps with GI health. Asparagus has also been traditionally used to treat swelling associated with arthritis and rheumatism.

If you get to the market after 12, you won’t find it; it sells out quickly. As I unfortunately got there at 2 today, I’ll have to try again first thing tomorrow at the Tompkins Square Greenmarket. Why am I so fanatical? The delicate, satiny stalks proudly hold the plump, buttery heads – it’s quite unlike the squishy, wilted supermarket version. It is best eaten within a couple of days, as the nutrients and flavor will diminish if you spend too much time contemplating all the delicious ways you can cook it.

Asparagus actually doesn’t need much preparation - lightly steamed, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, it bursts with flavor. Try the purple, as it is fruitier and sweeter than the green; for little ones with “green food” issues, this is a perfect alternative. The white is milder, but lacks chlorophyll, so I use it for aesthetic purposes only. Here are some links to my favorite recipes:

Asparagus Wrapped in Serrano Ham
Asparagus Soup with Lemon Crème Fraiche
Asparagus Omelet

This is a very important food for kids. Some love it just as it is, others need a little creative encouragement – which, as it turns out, is the case with both of my kids. So, I always serve steamed bright green stalks swimming in olive oil along with some other dish that doesn’t flaunt the vegetable so much. My younger son loves noodles with tiny purple disks of something “nutty.” Omelets provide a great hiding place, as long as you can chop up the asparagus super-fine. I also found a great recipe for an asparagus pancake that my kids love – I make it gluten-free, of course.

Easy Asparagus Pancakes

1 tbsp butter
2/3 cup asparagus, broken into 1-inch long pieces
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup flour
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cheese, shredded

1. Heat oven to 400F. Place butter in a 9-inch pie pan or casserole and place in oven to melt. Swirl pan to coat the bottom.
2. Lightly steam asparagus until not quite tender. Place into the bottom of the pan.
3. In a bowl, whisk together flour, milk, eggs, and salt until smooth. Pour over the asparagus. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
4. Sprinkle cheese on top, cut into wedges and serve immediately.
From Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert.

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