Spring has arrived and so has the asparagus.
This is the time of year when the vegetable is most plentiful. About half of the asparagus grown in the U.S. comes from California, where the season extends into mid-May. In the Midwest and East, asparagus remains in season into July.
Asparagus shoots are picked when the spears reach about 6 to 8 inches in length. Green, white and purple varieties are available, and all of them are rich sources of nutrients. Asparagus is especially high in folate, and its a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K and several minerals.
Its low in calories and sodium. Another big bonus: Asparagus is a vegetable that is typically low enough in pesticide residues that you can feel confident buying conventional varieties rather than spending more for organic.
Its also versatile. Just resist the temptation to smother it in fatty Hollandaise sauce or butter. Instead, retain the nutritional goodness of asparagus by cooking it in ways that add flavor without excessive amounts of sodium and saturated fat. Look online for recipe ideas, including some like these:
• Pasta tossed with olive oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, cherry tomato halves and steamed asparagus tips. Add shaved Parmesan cheese as a garnish.
• Asparagus spears marinated in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and roasted or grilled and served as a side dish.
• Steamed asparagus topped with chopped egg whites and capers. Youll find several variations on this theme online.
• Asparagus salad with mustard vinaigrette dressing.
When you buy asparagus, look for spears that are straight and firm with tips that are tightly closed. Stalks vary in size, but most are a half inch or less in diameter.
Asparagus doesnt keep long, so plan to use it within a day or two after buying. If you have to store it, wrap the stems in a moist paper towel and refrigerate it in a plastic bag.
One pound of asparagus equals approximately 14 medium-sized spears, about three or four servings.
If asparagus is new to you, nows the time to give it a try. For everyone else, its time to enjoy it more often.
Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at email@example.com; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.