Choosing and preserving asparagus

How to choose delicious asparagus and prepare or preserve this versatile Michigan vegetable.

Fresh asparagus is a well-loved, nutrient-dense vegetable. A nutrient dense food means it if full of important vitamins and minerals. Asparagus is high in folic acid and a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, Vitamin A and C and thiamin. In addition, it contains no fat, cholesterol and very little sodium.

The asparagus season lasts only about six to seven weeks during the early spring and summer. Asparagus is one of the most versatile vegetables, meaning it can be steamed, simmered, roasted, battered, grilled, sautéed or wok-fried. It can also be sliced thin and eaten raw in salads.

When choosing fresh asparagus, look for spears that are brightly colored and have compact tightly closed tips.

There are three colors of asparagus, green being the most common. The white variety is most common in Europe. It is white because of being covered with mulch to prevent the development of chlorophyll. White asparagus must be completely peeled and well cooked. The purple variety has a beautiful violet skin that turns dark green when cooked.

Michigan State University Extension does not recommend washing fresh asparagus until ready to prepare. Fresh asparagus can be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel and plastic bag or stored upright in a container with an inch of water.

To freeze fresh asparagus select young tender stalks. Thoroughly wash the asparagus and cut into even lengths. Water blanch; is exposing any vegetable to boiling water or steam for a brief period of time to stop ripening. Immerse cut asparagus into boiling water; small spears two minutes, medium spears three minutes and large spears four minutes. Immediately cool in ice water to prevent cooking. Drain, package and freeze. For further storage and preservation information, go to Michigan State University Extension MI Fresh.

Enjoy this versatile and delicious vegetable many ways during its short but sweet season!

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